The Men in Blue finished in the third spot at the tournament.

The Asian Champions Trophy has recently concluded at the Maulana Bhasani Hockey Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Unfortunately for India, the result was not what they were expecting. After beginning in a dominant fashion by going unbeaten in the group stages, the Indians slipped against Japan in the semis. Incidentally, India trounced Japan 6-0 in the group stages.

India finished at the third place in the tournament after edging past arch-rivals Pakistan in a closely contested game. Despite that, losing out on the title was a hard felt blow. Let’s find out how did the Indian side perform in the tournament.

Positives

Harmanpreet Singh’s form

One of the best in his trade, watching Harmanpreet Singh play is a real treat to the eyes. That is exactly what he did the 2021 edition of the Asian Champions Trophy. The defender not only fortified his backline but also scored eight goals, the second highest in the tournament.

Singh scored in every match he played in the tournament. The penalty corner specialist made beating the keepers look easy. This clearly demonstrates the current run of form he is in and at 25 years, he still has many years ahead of him. This could be worrying for India’s opponents as on any given day, he can change the complexion of the game single handedly.

India’s attacking gameplay

This Indian team doesn’t know how to play it safe. They don’t sit back to defend their turf after taking a lead. They keep on constantly attacking their opponents till the final whistle. Coach Graham Reid has invigorated the team with such mentality that the Indian men have become relentless.

It is because of that mentality that we see the Indian side scoring so many goals in every game. Starting off with two goals against South Korea in a 2-2 draw, the Indians followed it up a 9-0 thumping of Bangladesh and a 3-1 victory over Pakistan. The Men in Blue wrapped up the group stages with a 6-0 win over Japan.

They went onto score thrice against Japan in the semifinals, however, they lost the game unfortunately. However, they finished their campaign in style with a 4-3 victory over Pakistan in the third-place match.

The Indian side were truly the epitome of attack in every sense. One thing is for certain, India’s attack is certainly at par with the best in the world currently.

Manpreet Singh’s captaincy

The 29-year-old has done wonders since he became the captain of the Indian men’s hockey team in 2017. The 2019 FIH Player of the Year awardee had already won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics after a gap of 40 years. This time at the Asian Champions Trophy 2021, he marshalled his troops perfectly once again.

The midfielder was the perfect link between the forward line and the defence. He supported the backline when they were breached and assisted the strikers during forward runs. Despite not scoring goals, he rallied the team perfectly. In fact, it was due to his splendid performance that he was declared the Man of the Match in a crucial bronze medal against Pakistan.

Negatives

Prone to faltering in big matches

The Indian hockey team have a habit of succumbing in matches with higher stakes. Although they have made major comebacks from the cusp of elimination, however, India does tend to fall at the big stages.

Asian Champions Trophy hockey
India fell against Japan in the semifinal (Credit: Hockey India)

This was the same Japan team that India hammered in the group stages. The Japanese fell to India without being able to put up any resistance. Players like Harmanpreet Singh, Dilpreet Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh and others carved them up with their attacks. The Indians won the game 6-0.

Yet two days later, the likes of Shota Yamada and Raiki Fujishima guided Japan to a victory against India. Graham Reid has to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. The tactician has some very talented players at his disposal and has to ensure pressure does not affect his side’s gameplay.

Are India’s second choice players good enough ?

The Asian Champions Trophy was India’s first outing since their success at the Tokyo Olympics. Moreover, this tournament provided an opportunity for the players in the sidelines to perform at a major international event as 10 players from the Olympic campaign were rested. India’s first-choice goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was one of those players who were unavailable in the tournament.

India sent a second-string side for the tournament. In spite of performing well, the answer to these players’ quality against top sides remain unclear, especially when it comes to the high-pressure matches. However, their talent is not under the scope, as more exposure will eventually prove to be fruitful.

This was also a great learning curve for the young players, particularly the two second-choice goalkeepers in Krishna Bahadur Pathak and Suraj Karkera, who would replace Sreejesh under the posts in the future. As for the outfield players — Jarmanpreet Singh, Gurinder Singh and Jaskaran Singh have a lot of potential of becoming stars in the future.

Having said that, it falls to speculation that what could have been the outcome had the first-choice players participated in the tournament. However, the tour proved to be productive overall and that is what matters in the longer run.

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