What Skipper Sreejesh Told His Hockey Team After Asiad Heartbreak
After a heartbreaking loss in the semi-final, the Indian men’s hockey team bagged a bronze at the Asian Games.
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Camera: Abhay Sharma
Being the top-ranked men’s hockey team, India had dominating wins in the group stages of the Asian Games. They started out with massive victory margins, like a record 26-0 against Hong Kong, China, 20-0 against Sri Lanka and 17-0 against Indonesia.
But that was only until their first knockout match of the tournament, and India floundered to a heartbreaking loss against Malaysia in the semi-finals.
Leading 2-1 until the dying minutes of the match, India conceded a goal with less than 60 seconds to go, sending the match into penalty shootout.
With scores level after 5 shots each, the shootout moved into sudden death, where each goal became a matter of win/loss.
In the first five shots, you know you can rectify your mistakes. When it comes to sudden death, it becomes a lot harder. Especially after playing a 60-minute match in humid weather, a shootout really drains you out. In that situation, focusing on your task is hard.PR Sreejesh, Captain, Indian Hockey Team
India, who had scored 76 goals in the group stage, were left stunned after SV Sunil missed his attempt in the sudden death. Only Akashdeep and Harmanpreet scored in the first five shots of the shoot-off while Manpreet Singh, Dilpreet Singh and Sunil faltered.
Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh kept India in the game as he only let in two goals from Muhammad Ashari and Fitri Saari. Tengku Ahmad, Faizal Saari and Muhammad Azuan missed the target for Malaysia.
It was the deciding shootout and I missed it. I take responsibility, it was my mistake. The team put their confidence in me, and I couldn’t do it. But at the end of the day, it’s a team event. You win together and you lose together. I have learnt a lot from this personally and will try not to make the same mistake again.SV Sunil
No Gold at Asian Games, But What’s Next?
Defending champions India had obviously entered the Games aiming for gold, but landed a bronze. The team may not be extremely happy with their Asian Games performance, but still have a lot of positives to move forward with.
Next up, India will be hosting the Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar, starting 28 November. But there, they’ll be playing the best teams in the world.
Before the Asian Games, we played the Champions Trophy where we played all the higher-ranked teams and won a silver medal. When we came to Asian Games, we played lower-ranked teams and scored 72-80 goals. We are rating tournaments and rating ourselves, and seeing where we need to improve. These experiences will help us face challenges in the World Cup.PR Sreejesh, Captain, Indian Hockey Team
India didn’t just miss defending their title at this Asian Games, they also lost a chance at grabbing a 2020 Olympic berth. Going ahead, captain Sreejesh says that while the team will be looking to seal a spot in the Tokyo Games, the immediate focus would be on the upcoming tournaments.
We have another one-two years to think about the Olympic Games. For us, the Asian Champions Trophy and World Cup are more important. We’re looking forward to that. Next year, there’ll be a qualifier round there’ll be lots of tournaments which will give us an opportunity to qualify for Tokyo. More than the future, we’re concerned about the upcoming tournaments.PR Sreejesh, Captain, Indian Hockey Team
Is an Olympic Medal a Feasible Dream?
With the Indian men’s team losing out on medals at the Commonwealth Games, and being unable to defend their title at the Asian Games, is an Olympic medal a feasible dream? SV Sunil thinks so.
“We can definitely win an Olympic medal. Everyone believes we can. We ourselves are the challenge. If we play well, we will win,” he said.
Sreejesh on the other hand said, “Somewhere, something is going wrong, which is why the results are not in our favour. For the upcoming tournaments, I hope we can prepare really well, better than this, harder than this, and take the challenges in a better way”.
With close losses like the one at the Asian Games, what do senior players like SV Sunil tell the team to keep them motivated?
“We tell them there's nothing to lose. If we kept thinking about the loss, we couldn't play the 3rd or 4th place match well either. So it's better that we at least take something home,” said Sunil.
We make them understand the situation. They’re going to be the experienced players of the future. It’s really important for us to build up a new generation. We told them it is part of the game. You’re a good team but you’ve lost one match, and it was the deciding one.PR Sreejesh
“So next time, when you prepare for a tournament, it's important to tell the young members that they can't make small mistakes that will cost them the match,” he concluded.
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