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News for 22 March 2019

All the news for Friday 22 March 2019

2019 FIH Pro League (Women) - 22 March

21 Mar 2019     CHN v ARG (RR) 0 - 1     Wujin Hockey Stadium, Changzhou    
22 Mar 2019    CHN v NZL (RR) 5 - 3    Wujin Hockey Stadium, Changzhou

Live streaming and full game replay on https://fih.live (Geo blocked if there is TV coverage)

Unofficial Pool standings

Rank Team Played Wins Win Draws Loss Draws Losses Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Points Percent
1 Argentina 8 4 2 0 1 12 6 6 16 72.2
2 Australia 8 4 1 0 3 14 12 2 14 58.3
3 Netherlands 5 4 0 0 1 10 3 7 12 80.0
4 New Zealand 9 4 0 0 5 17 16 1 12 44.4
5 China 7 2 0 1 4 13 15 -2 7 33.3
6 Belgium 3 2 0 0 1 3 3 0 6 66.7
7 Germany 4 1 0 2 1 8 7 1 5 41.7
8 Great Britain 3 0 1 0 2 3 10 -7 2 22.2
9 United States 4 0 0 1 3 4 12 -8 1 8.3

The FIH inexplicably and confusingly use a system not used in any other sports League in the World, of making the Percentage more important than Points until the end of the League when they will revert to Points only. Fieldhockey.com prefers to use the conventional Points and so the Unofficial Pool Standings on this site are reflected in this manner.

FIH Match Centre

Albertarrio strikes as Argentina beat China in Changzhou to close gap on table-toppers Netherlands

A solitary goal from Agustina Albertarrio gave Argentina a third successive victory away from home in the FIH Pro League, defeating hosts China 1-0 in front of a vociferous and enthusiastic crowd at the Wujin Hockey Stadium in Changzhou.

Albertarrio hit what proved to be the winning goal in the tenth minute of the contest, scoring from close range against a China team that dominated large periods of the game but failed to find a way past an Argentina defence that has now gone three matches without conceding.

The result sees the second-placed Leonas narrow the gap on leaders the Netherlands at the top of the FIH Pro League standings, with Argentina having claimed 76.2 percent of the available points compared to 80 percent by the Dutch. China’s fourth defeat sees them remain seventh in the league table ahead of their home match against New Zealand on Friday (22 March).

Both teams had good reason to feel confident about their chances ahead of this fixture. Argentina (FIH World Ranking: 4) arrived in Changzhou following back-to-back away victories over New Zealand and Australia, while China’s (WR:10) recent home win over Germany was another important milestone for a talented young team that appears to be developing at a rapid rate.

With Las Leonas missing two of their greatest attacking assets in 2017 FIH Player of the Year Delfina Merino and inspirational veteran Carla Rebecchi, China’s hopes of getting a result against the in-form South American giants increased significantly. The home side made a bright start to the contest and almost opening the scoring through Peng Yang, who found space in the attacking circle but failed to test Argentina goalkeeper Belen Succi.

With far from impressed Leonas Head Coach Carlos Retegui barking orders from the side lines, Argentina soon found their feet in the contest and opened the scoring in the 10th minute when an unmarked Agustina Albertarrio received the ball directly in front of goal before seeing her raised effort clip the pads of China goalkeeper Ye Jiao before bouncing over the goal-line.

China searched hard for an equaliser in the second and third quarters but found Argentina's defence in defiant mood. Xi Xiayun saw her goal-bound efforts blocked by both Succi and Player of the Match Lucina von der Heyde in the second quarter before Argentina’s Julieta Jankunas scored against the run of play in the third quarter only for it to be ruled out by a video umpire referral.

China threw everything they had at their opponents in the final period, but for all their industry they could not find that all important finishing touch in front of goal as Argentina claimed a third successive win on the road. Remarkably, it is now 206 minutes since Argentina last conceded in the FIH Pro League, having claimed three successive clean-sheet wins since a 34th minute strike from Dutch ace Pien Sanders saw Las Leonas lose 2-1 against the Netherlands in Buenos Aires on 24 February.

Argentina’s Player of the Match Lucina von der Heyde said: “The match was very hard for us but we are so happy to win and to get the three points.”

The FIH Pro League continues in China on Friday 22 March as China welcome New Zealand to the Wujin Hockey Stadium in Changzhou. itter.

FIH Pro League

21 March - Changzhou, China

Result: Women’s Match 24
China 0, Argentina 1
Player of the Match: Lucina von der Heyde (ARG)

Umpires: Michelle Meister (GER), Ivan Makar (CRO) & Celine Martin-Schmets (BEL - Video)


Official FIH Pro League Site

Argentina women head PAHF’s Pro League challenge

Sarah Juggins

FIH Pro League action   

The aim of the inaugural FIH Hockey Pro League was to create an exciting home and away global league that would introduce hockey to new fans and create an exciting live sports event at venues around the world.

And in so many ways the new league has delivered. In 17-year-old Mackenzie Allessie, USA women have found a new star. For Argentina, it is the old guard who are leading the way as Carla Rebecchi stormed back onto the international stage after the birth of baby Vera with two Player of the Match performances in the opening two games the Pro league season. And the 14 men of Argentina, five of them making their debut, put paid to a resolute New Zealand with a sparkling performance that bodes well for Los Leones’ future.

Of course, as expected with a brand new concept, there have been teething problems: notably India and Pakistan’s withdrawal – the former by choice, the latter after they were suspended amid financial concerns.

Spain men and Belgium women took the places vacated by India, but Pakistan’s withdrawal was so late that there was no time to find a replacement. This means the inaugural FIH Pro League has eight men’s teams and nine women’s teams.

At the culmination of the league, the teams finishing in the top four positions will automatically go to an Olympic qualifying event. There are also ranking points available for all the teams depending upon where they finish in the Pro League.

Also to be expected at a new event is the unexpected and that was certainly the case when Germany arrived in Argentina. First the women endured four weather breaks during the match and subsequent shoot-out as thunder and lightning crashed around the stadium in Buenos Aires and then the men’s match was abandoned altogether. It was a situation that caused Match Manager Lurah Hess considerable torment.

“While weather was creating havoc on the pitch for the Argentina and German women, I was in contact with the International Hockey Federation  to discuss the plan for weather disruption and managing a card suspension at the same time”, she says. Multi-tasking doesn’t come near describing Hess’s balancing act for those moments.

“Additionally,’ laughs Huss as she reflects back, “while we were on a weather delay, the TV cameras turned on me to explain the situation. It is rarely a good situation when a technical official is in the spotlight. I certainly hope the old adage of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” is true.”

And so to the FIH Pro League action, where our continent is represented by Argentina men and women, and USA women.

The honour of opening the women’s Pro League event fell to Argentina women (FIH World Ranking: 4) as they welcomed the lowest ranked team in the competition, Belgium (WR:13). The honour of umpiring the first Pro League women’s match also fell to a PAHF representative as Maggie Giddens took charge. “It has been awesome to be a part of the Pro League an umpire,” she says. “Every week it has been showcasing fast, exciting quality hockey.”

A solid 2-0 win against Belgium in front of a sell-out crowd at the Estadio Municipal de Hockey in Cordoba meant that Argentina were also the first women’s team to win points in the new Pro League.

The men were unable to repeat the feat, as they fell foul of a Belgium side that were buoyed by their recent victory at the World Cup. The 4-2 loss added insult to the fact that Belgium had also recently leapfrogged both Australia (WR:2) and Argentina (WR:4) to become the number one ranked side in the world.

It has been three years since Argentina last hosted a FIH international tournament – the 2015 women’s Hockey Champions Trophy was the last such occasion – and the huge crowds showed they had been missing top flight hockey.

Mercedes Margalot, former Las Leonas, Olympian and now ESPN commentator says: “The Pro League in Argentina has been very well received. Both in Cordoba and in Buenos Aires the tickets were sold out quickly and people were eager to watch both the men’s and the women’s teams. It has also been watched by thousands on television as well. People here love hockey, not only was there was a huge support for Argentina’s team, but the supporters were cheering on the opposition as well.”

The next women’s match was an all-PAHF affair as USA (WR:12) travelled to Cordoba to take on Las Leonas.

Janneke Schopman, the USA head coach is presently in the middle of rebuilding her squad after a raft of retirements followed the Vitality Women’s World Cup. Despite this, it was the USA, via the skill and verve of squad newcomer Mackenzie Allessie, who produced a moment of magic for the visiting side when she jumped onto a poor clearance from Argentina’s goalkeeper Belen Succi before slotting home from a tight angle.

Things got even better for USA in the second period when they doubled their lead through Lauren Moyer, who was celebrating her 50th international appearance.

Going into the final quarter, USA might have believed they had won all three points but, as so often has happened in the past, it was Carla Rebecchi who came to the rescue. The 34-year-old showed a blistering turn of pace to split the USA defence before rounding the goalkeeper, Kealsie Robles, and halving the deficit.

Rebecchi then played a crucial part in Argentina’s equaliser, sending a flicked penalty corner effort towards goal for captain Delfina Merino to touch home, sparking noisy jubilation in the stands.

The ensuing shoot-out went the way of the host nation, with Merino, Silvina d’Elia and Lucina von der Heyde all scoring before Belen Succi denied Nicole Woods with a diving stick save to ensure her team emerged as 3-1 winners and took the bonus point.

Both USA and Argentina women then faced the toughest of challengers as the world number one side, The Netherlands, came calling. Both PAHF teams fell to Alyson Annan’s team, USA lost 5-0, while Argentina lost by much narrower 2-1 scoreline.

The Argentina men’s side fared much better: the old guard of Matias Paredes (2) and Lucas Vila (2) were the goalscorer in Los Leones thrilling 4-3 victory over the Dutch.

The rain-affected match between Argentina and Germany saw Las Leonas take the bonus points after winning the shoot-out as the match finished 2-2. The women’s match was halted four times, the men didn’t even get to start the game, so bad was the weather. It was a situation that sent Gonzalo Peillat to Twitter to vent his annoyance: “What would happen if a team has three of its matches cancelled and because of the ‘one point per cancelled match’ system and, as a result, they aren’t able to finish in the top four and go to the Olympic qualifiers. We need a better system.”

Commenting on the situation, Mercedes Margalot added: “It was unbearable that due to weather conditions a game was canceled. The teams should try to stay at least one extra day to preventing something like this. We all know it might happen, it is not unusual in Argentina to have storms.”

Margalot added that under the current rules, if a match is cancelled before it has finished, then the game is counted as a draw. It is something with which she vehemently disagrees. “It shouldn’t be like that, what is you are winning 4-0? In that case, you should consider the winning team taking two points, and the other team one point. If not, you are not recognising the achievements of the  for team that’s winning.”

Both USA and Argentina’s next trips were across the water to Oceania. The trip proved an unhappy hunting ground for USA as they were beaten by both New Zealand and Australia. Captain Kat Sharkey summed things up when she said: “I think we have learned some valuable lessons that when we are down at their end attacking we need to be switch on in defence because they are really good on the counter attack. I think we were able to create a lot of opportunities, but need to keep working on being able to put the ball over the line.”

It was a different story for Argentina women as they won both their encounters. However, it was Argentina men who performed a remarkable feat, beating New Zealand with a team that was missing a galaxy of stars – among them Juan Vivaldi, Gonzalo Peillat, Pedro Ibarra and Matias Paredes – and with debutant players. It is a sign that German Orozco and his coaching staff are reaping the benefits of a strong development system. 

As the action transfers from the Southern hemisphere to the Northern hemisphere, Argentina women are currently in second place behind the Netherlands. USA are in ninth position just behind Great Britain. Argentina men are in fifth place, a few points behind Germany.

There are inevitable hiccoughs with a new league and a new playing format. It is tough on the players, coaches and team staff as they have to leave family and jobs for long periods of time. It is tough on the officials, with both Maggie Giddens and Lurah Hess admitting it was only because of very understanding family and work colleagues that they could handle the demands of the Pro League.

Cameras have panned on empty seats in stadiums which is at odds with the stated ambition of ‘packed stands’. Hockey fans have been vocal in their criticism of a lack of access to some matches because of various broadcasting issues.

But these are all issues that were inevitable in the opening season. On the reverse, one has to acknowledge the passionate fans that packed the stadiums in Cordoba and Buenos Aires. And there is no getting away from the fact that most of the Pro League games have provided an incredible showcase for some of the best hockey talent in the world.

Pan American Hockey Federation media release

Unsworth and Costello back from injury for FIHPL games

Laura Unsworth of Great Britain's women's team

Great Britain have announced a travelling squad of 20 female players who will compete against USA and Argentina in the latest round of FIH Pro League fixtures.

Olympic gold medal winner Laura Unsworth is back from injury, while Scotland's Amy Costello is set for her FIH Pro League debut after missing the first round of matches.
Goalkeeper Sabbie Heesh is called up, while young Alex Malzer is also selected for the first time. Alex is 18 years old, plays for the University of Nottingham and is the latest of our Great Britain Elite Development Programme athletes to make an FIH Pro League squad. If she plays in these games, she would be the first player born in the 2000s to play for Great Britain or England.
Full squad:
Giselle Ansley (Surbiton) (ENG)
Grace Balsdon (Canterbury) (ENG)
Nicki Cochrane (Beeston) (SCO)
Amy Costello (University of Birmingham) (SCO)
Emily Defroand (Surbiton) (ENG)
Sarah Evans (Surbiton) (ENG)
Sabbie Heesh (Surbiton) (ENG)
Tess Howard (Durham University) (ENG)
Jo Hunter (Surbiton) (ENG)
Sarah Jones (Holcombe) (WAL)
Alex Malzer (University of Nottingham) (ENG)
Hannah Martin (Surbiton) (ENG)
Lizzie Neal (Loughborough Students) (ENG)
Lily Owsley (University of Birmingham) (ENG)
Hollie Pearne-Webb (Surbiton) (ENG)
Suzy Petty (Wimbledon) (ENG)
Ellie Rayer (East Grinstead) (ENG)
Sarah Robertson (Hampstead & Westminster) (SCO)
Anna Toman (Wimbledon) (ENG)
Laura Unsworth (East Grinstead) (ENG)
Head Coach Mark Hager said, "We are looking forward to playing again after a three-week training phase, USA and Argentina will be a good challenge for the group and provides another opportunity to work on the team structures and concepts.
"It’s great to have Laura Unsworth back with the team, she missed our past three games due to injury, so we’re excited to have someone with Laura’s experience and leadership back involved, along with Amy Costello and Sabbie Heesh.
"Young midfielder Alex Malzer has shown good development in our EDP programme and has now been provided with this opportunity to further assist her in growing on the world stage."
In the first game against USA, Lily Owsley is likely to win her 50th cap for Great Britain, while Hannah Martin would reach 50 combined caps if she plays in both fixtures. Hollie Pearne-Webb is unavailable for the USA match but will be part of the squad for the Argentina game.
Great Britain have two points from their first three FIHPL matches, having secured a shootout win against China in their last game.
Hager’s side face the USA on Sunday 31 March at 11pm UK time at Spooky Nook, Lancaster, live on BT Sport. The Americans currently have one point from their four matches, but only one of those games was at home, against the Netherlands. USA play Belgium two days before our match, and could be ahead of GB in the table by the time our game takes place.
Argentina have 16 points from their seven matches, and host Great Britain on Saturday 6 April at 10pm UK time, again live on BT Sport. They secured good wins in their last matches, beating New Zealand 3-0 before securing successive 1-0 victories over Australia and China, the latter of which they will also play again before hosting GB.

Great Britain Hockey media release

Alex Malzer, 18, called into Great Britain women’s squad

By Rod Gilmour

Alex Malzer first represented England at under-16 level

Alex Malzer could become the first player born this century to play for Great Britain women after the Sussex teenager was called into the FIH Pro League squad.

GB Hockey announced on Thursday a 20-strong squad for their matches against USA and Argentina in the latest batch of global league fixtures.

Laura Unsworth is back from injury, while Scotland’s Amy Costello is set for her FIH Pro League debut after missing GB’s opening set of matches.

Goalkeeper Sabbie Heesh is called up, but it is the introduction of Malzer which is the biggest surprise.

The 18-year-old, a former student at Ardingly College, has represented England at under-16 level and is a multi-talented sportswoman after success at junior football level.

Great Britain are preparing for Americas tilt in Pro League PIC: World Sport Pics

The University of Nottingham student is also the latest to emerge from the Elite Development Programme, following the likes of Tess Howard into the squad.

Coach Mark Hager, who is due to move to the UK full-time in April after his visa approval, said: “It’s great to have Laura Unsworth back with the team, she missed our past three games due to injury, so we’re excited to have someone with Laura’s experience and leadership back involved, along with Amy Costello and Sabbie Heesh.

“Young midfielder Alex Malzer has shown good development in our EDP programme and has now been provided with this opportunity to further assist her in growing on the world stage.”

Hollie Pearne-Webb is unavailable for the USA match but will be part of the squad for the Argentina game. GB Hockey haven’t announced a captain for the USA match.

Great Britain have two points from their first three FIHPL matches after securing a shoot-out win against China in their recent game.

Full squad (GB unless stated):

Giselle Ansley (Surbiton), Grace Balsdon (Canterbury), Nicki Cochrane (Beeston) (SCO), Amy Costello (University of Birmingham) (SCO), Emily Defroand (Surbiton), Sarah Evans (Surbiton), Sabbie Heesh (Surbiton), Tess Howard (Durham University), Jo Hunter (Surbiton), Sarah Jones (Holcombe) (WAL), Alex Malzer (University of Nottingham), Hannah Martin (Surbiton), Lizzie Neal (Loughborough Students), Lily Owsley (University of Birmingham), Hollie Pearne-Webb (Surbiton), Suzy Petty (Wimbledon), Ellie Rayer (East Grinstead), Sarah Robertson (Hampstead & Westminster) (SCO), Anna Toman (Wimbledon), Laura Unsworth (East Grinstead) (ENG)

The Hockey Paper

Oltmans assures there's nothing to panic about

By Jugjet Singh

Seasoned national forward, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin (second from right) said that the recent heavy defeat to South Korea was just a friendly warm up match for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, and it was their first game with many new players in the team.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia were whipped by South Korea in a warm-up match for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup which begins in Ipoh this Saturday, but nobody is pressing the panic button just yet.

Striker Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin said it was either 5-0 or 6-0, as nobody kept count.

“It was just a friendly, and it was our first game with many new players in the team. South Korea came at us very hard, and I think we lost 5-0 or 6-0, but it does not matter as it was only a warm-up match and we were trying out some new formations,” said the seasoned striker.

The other teams in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup are India, Canada, Japan and Poland.

Malaysia open their campaign against last minute entry Poland, and coach Roelant Oltmans believes that the Poles will take to the field with a European style of play.

“We have only watched Poland play from videos, as they have yet to arrive in Ipoh as of today (Thursday). However, they are expected to come with the expected European style of play, and from what we have watched, they are fast on counter-attacks,” said Oltmans.

Oltmans concurred with Tengku Ahmad on the friendly match against the South Koreans, saying that he was trying out new tactics.

“We played well in the early part, but let in too many goals in the later part of the match. I was trying out some new formations, and that it to be expected.

“This is why we have another friendly match against India later today (Thursday) before we have a day’s rest, as then we play Poland in the opening match,” Oltmans pointed out.

With many of the squad’s senior players on the crocked list, including first-choice goalkeeper S. Kumar and skipper Shukri Mutalib, Oltmans will have to gamble on newcomers.

There will be seven new faces in the squad compared to the one which played in the recent World Cup in Bhubaneswar, and Malaysia could go either way on the standings.

Favourites India have won the Azlan Shah Cup five times, including one co-shared with South Korea as the final was abandoned due to a thunderstorm, and even they are down, having to make do without seven regulars who are out injured.

Despite being the hosts, Malaysia have yet to win the tournament, which began back in 1983, with the national side’s best showing being finishing as runners-up five times.


Saturday (March 23) – India v Japan (4pm), Canada v South Korea (6pm), Malaysia v Poland (8pm)

Sunday (March 24): India v South Korea (4pm), Canada v Poland (6pm), Malaysia v Japan (8pm)

Monday (March 25): Rest Day

Tuesday (March 26): Japan v Canada (4pm), Poland v South Korea (6pm), Malaysia v India (8pm)

Wednesday (March 27): Poland v Japan (4pm), Canada v India (6pm), Malaysia v South Korea (8pm)

Thursday (March 28): Rest Day

Friday (March 29): India v Poland (4pm), South Korea v Japan (6pm), Malaysia v Canada (8pm)

New Straits Times

Keeper Hairi ready to step up in Kumar’s absence

By Aftar Singh

KUALA LUMPUR: Hairi Abdul Rahman is ready to shoulder the challenge as the first choice goalkeeper for the six-nation Sultan Azlan Shah Cup which begins tomorrow at the Azlan Shah Stadium in Ipoh.

The 29-year-old Hairi from Johor Baru will stand in for the country's No. 1 goalkeeper S. Kumar, who is down with hamstring injury.

This is not the second time Hairi will play as the main goalkeeper in a tournament.

Last October, he was the custodian in the Asian Champions Trophy in Oman and he impressed national coach Roelant Oltmans.
Malaysia won the bronze medal in Oman thanks to his gallant performance in the penalty shootout.

The match against Japan ended in a 2-2 draw and Hairi made three penalty shootout saves to help Malaysia win 3-2.

Hairi, who has represented Malaysia 46 times since 2016, thanked coach Roelant for having faith in him.

"I have proven myself in Oman and I will do my best between the post in Ipoh. I also need to play consistently well in the tournament to win a place for the World Series (in Bukit Jalil from April 26-May 4, which is a qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics)," said Hairi, who will be featuring in his third Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

He made his international debut in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2016 and also featured in the tournament last year.

The Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) have set a target for Malaysia to win the tournament for first time.

The other teams in the fray are India, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Poland.

Hairi said it would be a challenge for them to lift the trophy as they would be up against teams like world No. 5 India and Canada who are ranked 11th in the world.

"Both these teams are ranked higher than us. India have skilful players and they also have two good drag flickers in Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar who played in the World Cup in Bhubaneswar, India last December.

"But I believe that I will rise to the occasion and deliver when it matters most," said Hairi, who was named for the World Cup in Bhubaneswar but did not get a chance to play at all.

Malaysia will open their campaign against Poland tomorrow.

The Star of Malaysia

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2019: Indian hockey team aim to put 2018's disappointments behind them in build-up to Olympic qualifiers

Sundeep Misra

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2019: Indian hockey team aim to put 2018s disappointments behind them in build-up to Olympic qualifiers

Analysis and introspection go hand in hand, in almost every sphere in life. More so in sports, where winning and losing acquires a life of its own. Losing consigns you to a pile of teams with a trunk load of statistics on why and how you lost. Winning is singular; the only stat a trophy and a word that separates you from the rest – champion.

India's team members celebrate after winning the match against Pakistan during the men's field hockey bronze medal match between India and Pakistan at the 2018 Asian Games. AFP

It’s that word, Champion, that the Indian hockey team aspired for in 2018 and came up short. Winning goes back to 2017 at the Maulana Bhasani Stadium when India won the Asia Cup. One can point to the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy but the final was washed away with India sharing the trophy with Pakistan. The year 2018 also saw expectations fall short; the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the big story that ended in a whimper — India’s 6th place at the World Cup. Despite all that, the stories, controversies, coach changes, selection squabbles, India stands once again at the door of a new year, 2019 with renewed ambition, a younger set of players and the hope of a ‘world class coach’ coming in who would guide their destiny to winning ways.

Despite senior and experienced players sitting out with a slew of injuries, the national team doesn’t look particularly weakened. Almost 90 percent of the squad has played international hockey and understands the pressures. It still will be a surprise if they don’t make it to the 28th Sultan Azlan Shah final. Take away the winning and losing aspects, the squad needs to step gingerly in what is a run-up to the Olympic Qualifiers in June in Bhubaneswar, which, if they make it to the final, leads them to a home and away game against an opponent ranked higher than themselves. Winning does give momentum but the important part of the coaching management, in this case, Chris Ciriello, is to bring back the ‘team’ aspect after a gruelling but unrewarding 2018.

In terms of pure defence, India is quite solid at the back with Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak as goalkeepers. Amit Rohidas, Birendra Lakra, Varun Kumar, Surender Kumar, Kothajit bring in valuable experience and fluency at the back. If there is a weak link, in terms of experience, then it’s Gurinder Singh but he too was part of the 2016 Junior World Cup team, 2017 Azlan Shah and the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy.

In the midfield, it’s Manpreet Singh leading the charge as captain along with Nilakanta, Hardik and Sumit. The welcome change is the coming back of Vivek Sagar Prasad, probably the player who should have played the World Cup in place of Nilakanta or Hardik. It was also a decision that would have helped in the quarter-final against Holland where solidity and fluency in the midfield was lost repeatedly. For a player who has all the attributes and played through all the important tournaments, dropping him for the World Cup remains a mystery, one that wasn’t taken looking at Vivek’s pace and skill on the pitch. His comeback is a relief and he would have understood one cardinal rule in Indian hockey — never take anything for granted; not even talent.

The forward line looks slightly anorexic. Yet you have the experienced Mandeep Singh with the wonderfully talented Simranjeet Singh along with Shilanand Lakra and Sumit Kumar. Gurjant Singh was originally there but he too with a late injury has been replaced with Gursahibjit Singh. In fact, Shilanand Lakra and Gursahibjit Singh played in the Junior Indian team at the 2018 Sultan of Johor Cup that reached the final. Lakra had four goals while Gursahibjit Singh two in the tournament. Shilanand was also a part of the 2018 Azlan Shah team.

The big guns missing from the Indian line-up are Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Chinglensana, Lalit Upadhyay, Dilpreet Singh, SV Sunil and Akashdeep Singh; the selection committee judiciously giving them time to recover from injuries and niggles looking at the Olympic Qualifying looming ahead.

It’s also time to balance hope against reality. Burden comes in different forms — history, legacy, fan pressure. Winning is a product of multiple strategies and just the appointment of an experienced coach isn’t going to solve it. Giving ‘time’ as a factor has never been given its due place in our hockey system. Pressure situations have always got the better of India. Last year was a perfect example — 4th place at the Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy final against Australia, Asian Games semi-final against Malaysia and the World Cup quarter-final against Holland; in almost all the matches, India were in winning situations before throwing it all away.

Yair Galily, a sports psychologist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, in Israel, and Elia Morgulev, in a study, went through three decades of NBA playoffs and found that teams did worse in must-win situations than when the stakes were low or equal for both teams. In the hockey World Cup, Belgium came back from losing situations to win the trophy. Maybe, there is a lesson. Free the mind to increase the odds of success. The glorious past will always be there. It doesn’t belong to the present team. For this team what they create will belong to them.

Tough competition in Ipoh will come from almost all the teams. They know India has a relatively inexperienced side and morale gets a boost if you beat the 5th ranked team in the world. Canada (10th), South Korea (17th), hosts Malaysia (13th), Asian Games champions Japan (18th) will be a handful. Poland (21), the team that replaced South Africa will try and figure out India before meeting them again at the Olympic Qualifiers in Bhubaneswar; Japan will also be in India’s pool at the Olympic Qualifiers.

The management would have looked up the numbers of 2018, at least for the Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy and the World Cup. They aren’t inspiring. It’s in those areas that improvement could be the difference between winning big and finishing small. Out of 146 field goal shots at the three above tournaments, 17 goals were scored. 67 PCs led to 18 goals; a total of 35 goals in three tournaments.

Coach at two of the above tournaments before being asked to leave after the World Cup (Champions Trophy and World Cup), Harendra Singh believes the team has it in them to deliver. “It’s a case of trust, faith and giving time to both player and coach,” he says without malice.

Japanese coach Siegfried Aikman had once spoken about an ‘emotional disconnect’ when playing matches. “Some teams play on emotion and some others disconnect themselves. It depends on the path taken to achieve victory.”

It’s an insight into India’s ups and downs in world hockey and the lack of a significant big win since the 75’ World Cup. If not a parallel, but close and educative of India’s issues in big tournaments, is a New York Times article on Gael Monfils inability to win Majors despite having some of the most miraculous shots. Giles Simon analysed it thus: “The emotional part with Gaël is much more important than with any other player: It’s almost all of it. He doesn’t like to win 6-1, 6-1. He needs some drama at some point. The showman who likes to play tricky shots will show up, and he forgets to win the match.” Sounds familiar.

2019. Less pressure. Free mind. Maybe, the national team would start winning more matches and the all-important Finals.


Is Graham Reid set to become the new coach of Indian men's hockey team?

Jaspreet Sahni

New Delhi: India's search for a new coach of the men's national team may end with Australian Graham Reid, according to reports in the Dutch media.

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