The Hague: Even though the Sun came out for barely minutes and a cold wind blew across the Kyocera Stadium, India's three goals provided enough warmth to a handful of fans scattered across the stands. The 3-0 win over South Korea ensured India finished 9th and provided a good enough glimpse of the force that India could be by the time the Asian Games begin in Korea in September.
India's Mandeep Singh (right) duels for a ball with South Korea's Seunghoon Lee at The Hague on Saturday. Pic/AFP
"It's frustrating to play for the lower positions," said Coach Terry Walsh. "But that's the reality after the missed chances in the first two matches, which we should have closed out or drawn. But today, the boys played with a purpose and we all wanted to go out with a win."
Playing at 8 am never has any advantages unless you are a team that loves the sight of empty seats. But for a group of Indian fans who came in early, they saw an Indian team playing with absolute control. Korea is not a pushover. Maybe, they are ageing. But when it comes to pace and speed, they could give good teams a run for their money.
Early in the match, India controlled the midfield. Korea saw less off the ball and this allowed the Indians to build up and rattle the Koreans with forays. Sardar's quick turn outside the Korean striking circle saw his pass reach Sunil who killed off the Koreans with pace before the free ball was whacked into goal by Akashdeep. An early goal lifts spirits. India played with precision. If space wasn't available, India rotated the ball.
Korea had glimpses at the Indian goal but Rupinder and Raghunath cleared in time and kept goalkeeper Sreejesh from working too hard. Five minutes left in the first half, Sunil had a run from the right flank and his push hit the post and went out.
Even though India led by a goal at the break, the match needed to be closed out against Korea. That opportunity came in the 43rd minute off India's second penalty corner when Rupinder Pal Singh's flick hit a Korean defender on the line. Rupinder converted the stroke to give India a 2-0 lead.
Indian forwards have a fascination for the reverse hit. Twice, even though they had space to create a move inside the Korean striking circle, Walmiki moved the ball and tried a reverse and then Sunil did the same. Both the times, the Korean goalkeeper Lee Myungho had enough time to close the gap.
India's overpowering presence in the midfield warranted more goals and it came in the 50th minute when Sunil back passed to Dharamvir who tapped it in an open space for Akashdeep to hit a reverse shot and give India a 3-0 lead.
Korea was still trying to get a goal and they had a golden chance when with 15 minutes left in the match, Gurbaz Singh was shown a yellow card and a suspension of ten minutes. India played with ten men and Korea had their best period in the match. With Coach Terry Walsh shouting to hold the ball as he didn't want to let Korea back into the match, Indian players rotated with captain Sardar at the fulcrum.
With the clock showing two minutes in the match, India brought in goalkeeper Harjot Singh in place of Sreejesh. It was sad that such a structured display came in a classification match but it definitely gave a glimpse of can be achieved if the team and coaches are persevered with.
"We are happy at finishing the tournament on a winning note," said Rupinder. "But, yes, we do believe that we could have finished higher in the rankings." The tall full back also said the team will now look forward to the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. "We do know where we went wrong and will try our best to fix it," said Rupinder.