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Rajinder Column
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Madrid: We Won a Needle Match (3/8/2004)
--Chief Coach Rajinder Singh
We won a needle match on Monday against New Zealand. But I have no hesitation in telling that we had to labour hard for that 2-0 win. Arjun Halappa set the ball rolling for us with a goal in very first minute. Couple of minutes before the hooter, Deepak Thakur, showing tremendous opportunism, enlarged the lead in a goalmouth melee.

In between these two beautiful goals, we had our moments, but our rivals had better ball possession, dominated the exchanges and had more strikes at goal. Its first encounter against the Kiwis under my coaching. I am surprised the way they played us. We had to overcome tight marking and employ double tackles in defence. Ours is a hard earned win. No doubt about that.

In the end it’s victory that counts. We got valuable three points, which took us second in the table after Pakistan. The Kiwis too have seven points like us, but we have better goal aggregate. We have scored 11 goals two more than the Kiwis. The New Zealanders will face Pakistan in their last match while we will meet Canada. I told the boys to keep up the tempo for a double gain – To ensure a semifinal berth and Athens’ ticket straightaway.

I know it’s easier said than done. For, the Kiwis are good fighters, even defeated Pakistan 7-1 at Manchester in the Commonwealth Games. Our focus therefore will be a good victory against Canada. It’s possible because the Canadians does not seem to be a formidable side as they used to be in my playing days. They are yet to win a match here.

I give full marks to our defenders and midfielders for the New Zealand victory. Because we did that without getting any yellow card. We got a yellow card suspension in all previous matches.

On Saturday, it was quite frustrating for me that despite playing better than Pakistan, we still ended up on the losing side. I would say that the 3-5 scoreline against Pakistan did no justice to India’s superiority.

As I had pointed out in my previous column, Pakistan rode on the shoulders of Sohail Abbas whose four penalty corner conversions eventually made the difference between victory and defeat.

Going into the game, we knew precisely what to expect and we were determined not to concede penalty corners. But then, nothing went according to our plans early on when Sohail converted two penalty corners and we fell behind.

Our forwardline definitely showed a lot of improvement and that was reflected in the three field goals that we scored. There was lot of fluency in our moves and I thought we outplayed Pakistan. We dominated the midfield and also the exchanges. Had we not conceded the penalty corners, then we might well have won the match quite comfortably.

On Saturday, goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan did not measure up to the challenge. These past couple of years, Devesh had been improving rapidly and was one of the most dependable players in the side. But he let in a couple of goals that he normally would have stopped and it hurt us eventually.

I substituted Devesh after he had let in four goals, and Bharat Chetri justified my faith in him by bringing off a couple of good saves. At 3-4, we were still in with a chance, but the fifth goal really ended our challenge.

Besides, the goalkeeping errors, absence of Vikram Pillay, our main "rusher", was felt. He was down with a minor hamstring injury. Pakistan scored two goals when Kawalpreet got the yellow card. Players should realise the immense damage suspensions can create. They should act with more responsibility and not give in to indiscretion.

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