A proud head coach Craig Fulton hailed India`s `structured` and `consistent` game in the 4-0 thrashing of arch-rivals Pakistan in their Asian Champions Trophy hockey match, adding that he looks for his players to continue in the same vein in the semifinal against Japan.
India`s comprehensive 4-0 win in their last round-robin league match on Wednesday knocked Pakistan out of the tournament. Unbeaten India topped the league table with four wins and a draw and play Japan in the semifinals on Friday.
“We did play a good-structured game. We did miss a few chances in the fourth quarter, but we did well overall,” Fulton said during the post-match press conference.
Japan sneaked into the semifinals ahead of Pakistan on better goal difference, though the two sides collected five points each. Japan had minus two goal difference as against minus five of Pakistan.
In fact, third-placed Korea also secured five points but they have a goal difference of minus one.
“We also had more penetration into the circle in each quarter than Japan. So, it will be about maintaining consistency and not doing it just one way,” Fulton said about the semifinal against Japan.
Pakistan were disallowed a goal after video referral early in the first quarter on the ground that the ball had hit a player`s body before he scored. Pakistan coach Muhammad Saqlain later complained that India`s first penalty corner from which the hosts took 1-0 lead off captain Harmanpreet Singh`s drag-flick was wrongly awarded.
“We conceded through India`s first penalty corner, but it came off the hand. The second umpire did inform that it wasn`t a PC, but the other umpire did not hear it,” Saqlain said.
“We lost the referral in the process. Such mistakes cannot happen at this level, especially when we are playing against the top sides in the world. So, the standard of umpiring needs improvement, which has been inconsistent in the event throughout,” he added.
Asked about the umpiring decisions in the match, Fulton played with a straight bat.
“That`s what video referrals are for. It (Pakistan`s disallowed goal) was scored off the body. But there are some goals that umpires can`t disallow.
“At the end of the day, they (Pakistan) played well. They had chances, but we defended well and got the goals counted at the right time.”
Jugraj Singh scored India`s third goal in the third quarter off a penalty corner.
Asked about the decision-making process regarding Jugraj being asked to take the penalty croner, Fulton said it was planned and “it all happened behind the scenes”.
“We do a lot of study on it. I can`t tell you everything, but eventually, he (Jugraj) has to execute it. So, he deserves all the credit for it.
“During the warm-up, I saw Jugraj flick one good, and I told him, `When I call you to flick, that`s how you do it`. Ultimately, it worked. But, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn`t. I`m glad it worked today.”
Captain Harmanpreet Singh struck twice from penalty corners to play a major role in the win.
“As far as my drag-flick is concerned, even if I miss out on one or two shots, I know I will get more opportunities, and my focus is on trying to get those converted.”
On Tuesday, Saqlain had said that India were not playing structured hockey.
Asked about Saqlain`s pre-match comments, Harmanpreet simply said that India would be looking to better the structure if that indeed was the case.
“If we are winning without playing in a structure, then we will try to better our structure. He has given us a good lesson,” he said.
Regarding decision-making process of the Indian team, Harmanpreet said, “We discussed things during every team meeting. Our graph has been going up. We are being told which area we are improving, and how to stay mentally strong and build trust.”
(With agency inputs)