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Tokyo Insights: Manpreet’s team needs to pull up its socks

What defines a good team is how well it rises after a big defeat. The Indian men’s hockey team’s mettle will be tested truly on Tuesday when it takes on Spain in a Group A match after the 7-1 thrashing it received at the hands of world No 1 Australia.

Considering that India have never beaten Australia in Olympics in the last few decades, Manpreet Singh and his team had a tough task when they went into the match against Australia.

“We knew it was going to be the toughest game for us, and I feel we lagged somewhere. The story would have been different if we had converted those early chances, and I think converting chances in the early stages of the match plays a very important role. But, in the end, you must respect your opponents, who played better hockey on a particular day,” said Manpreet.

But they would have never imagined the humiliating scoreline even in their worst nightmares. What was more galling is that there was lack of fight put up by the Indians in the second and fourth quarters.

Former India star Joaquim Carvalho singled out the inexperienced forward line, open and aggressive play against an opponent on the rampage, and leaden-footed defenders as the cause of India’s humiliating defeat.

India had started their Tokyo Olympics campaign with a narrow 3-2 win against New Zealand. But it were the Black Sticks’ trans-Tasman neighbours the Indians have found their nemesis many a time — the 8-0 pasting in the 2010 Commonwealth Games final in New Delhi is an example of another embarrassing outing for the Indians against the Kookaburras.

Sunday’s defeat came at the biggest stage — the Olympic Games in which India have a proud and glorious record having won eight gold medals.

The only thing the Indian hockey can do now is pull up their socks and put up a better performance against Spain, which is struggling after suffering a narrow defeat against New Zealand on Sunday. They had started well by holding Rio Olympics gold medallist Argentina but the defeat against the Black Sticks was a big setback. Thus, Australia are on top of the table with six points, Argentina second at four points with New Zealand and India tied at three points from one win and one defeat. Spain have one point from a draw and Japan have none, having lost both their matches.

Sunday’s 1-7 rout against Australia not only hits the team’s morale but also drastically brings down the goal difference, which will finally come into play in case India and another team are tied on the same number of points and the same number of wins at the end of the group stage. India now have a goal difference of -5 (minus 5).

The best way forward for India at this moment is to win all three of their remaining matches. But that is easier said than done, especially after Sunday’s performance.

Skipper Manpreet Singh is aware that they have to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and win the match against Spain.

“As I said earlier, we are taking one match at a time, and we need to keep improving every day on a platform like this. Spain are also a very good team, and definitely, it’s going to be a challenging match for us, but we are up for it. All we have to do is to keep things simple and play to our strengths,” Manpreet was quoted as saying by Hockey India in a release.

The match against Spain will be very crucial for India because losing that match will hamper their chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals — four teams from the six in the group will reach the last-eight stage.

Spain have a very good team and they can be very tricky opponents — like Argentina found out on July 24.

The Indians will have to make the most of their chances — especially on the penalty corners of which they missed six against the Aussies. They also have to defend well and in numbers and not allow the Spaniards many chances.

If they get past the Spaniards, they will have another challenge in the form of Argentina. That would be a matter for another day.

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