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We Need to Prepare Better for Penalty Corners, Shoot-outs: Captain PR Sreejesh

In the semi-final at the 2018 Asian Games, India led 2-1 at the 40th minute. With sixty seconds to go, they conceded an equaliser against the Malaysians. Conceding late goals has been the Indian team's perennial problem.

Abhimanyu Sen | News18 Sports

Updated:September 4, 2018, 2:09 PM IST
We Need to Prepare Better for Penalty Corners, Shoot-outs: Captain PR Sreejesh
India's goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, (left), tries to block a shot from Malaysia's Muhammad Firhan during their men's hockey semi-final match at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 (AP)

New Delhi: After scoring 76 goals in the group stages of the recently concluded Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, the Indian men’s hockey team lost to Malaysia in the semi-finals in a sudden death. India came into the Games as the defending champions, and gold medal favourites, but four misses in the nerve wracking penalties meant they were relegated to the third-fourth playoff match against arch-rivals Pakistan, as they finished with bronze.

In the semi-final, India led 2-1 at the 40th minute. With sixty seconds to go, they conceded an equaliser against the Malaysians. Conceding late goals has been the Indian team's perennial problem.

“We made a few small mistakes and paid a huge price for that. One loss or one bad day does not mean we are a bad team, but yes it hurt to be defeated like that,” PR Sreejesh told News18Sports after returning from the Asian Games.

Just a month before that, in the Champions Trophy final against Australia, once again India had lost on penalties. “Penalty shootouts are not always about skills, in fact it is more in the mind and going forward we have to work on improving that aspect of our game. Sometimes though luck has unfortunately deserted us,” says Sreejesh. “We have to be mentally stronger and we have to work on that accordingly.”

The loss to Malaysia in the Asian Games semi-final had left Hockey India officials miffed. The loss was unexpected to say the least, and with that India had missed out on the opportunity of a direct qualification for the Tokyo Olympics. "Our men players have become spoilt brats. They are always busy on social media and have no regard for discipline. They should learn from athletes, shooters and badminton players," a Hockey India official said had said at the time. "The players and the team management has let the entire nation down. With the World Cup round the corner we can't make any changes now. But the performance in the World Cup will decide the future of the players and the team management."

The Indian captain didn't hold back when asked about the extreme criticism. “We will always give our best for the nation no matter what, the federation can look at things the way they want to. But let me promise you, this team does not let external influences get in the way of performing or trying their best,” he said, to defend his team, just like he does match after match on the ground.

While Sreejesh has been a standout performer in recent years, his teammate, veteran Sardar Singh has experienced a few ups and downs, more downs in recent times than he'd like. But the captain, who acts like the second coach in the field of play, believes the midfielder, when fit, is a crucial cog in the wheel.

“When you (Sardar Singh) are competing against younger and fitter players in the squad, you have to be able to cope up so that the team can do well,” Sreejesh points out, before adding that the former captain is currently best suited for a defensive midfield role, from where he can pick open the opposition defenses.

“Sardar’s throughballs are among the best in the game. Our attacking players are fast and that’s the kind of outlet he needs,” the goal-keeper captain explains.

Up next for the Indian men’s team will be the Asian Champions Trophy in October in Muscat where they open their campaign against Oman on October 18th, followed by the World Cup at the end of the year in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. “In the upcoming tournaments, Asian Champions Trophy and then the World Cup, we need to prepare well for the penalty corners and be able to convert them more regularly. We need to be clinical to do well,” Sreejesh said.

India have won the World Cup only once, in 1975. And to get any close to repeating that, it's crucial for the players to hold nerves in crunch games, which is an evident gap in an otherwise good side.

| Edited by: Abhimanyu Sen
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