Indian men’s hockey team high on confidence after dominating the group stages as they take on South Korea in the Asian Games semifinal
India's men's hockey team will face South Korea in the semifinals at Asian Games.
Indian Hockey Team (Image via SAI)
The fluent run in the league phase has been captivating, and now comes the knockout at the Asian Games in Hangzhou. On Wednesday, the Indian men’s hockey team will lock horns with South Korea in a semi-final contest where energy and speed will make the difference.
The die-hard hockey fans can never forget the trauma of the last Asian Games held in Jakarta. The team, under coach Harendra Singh, had a good run in the league phase before being hammered by Japan in the semi-finals. Much water has flowed since then. The Indian team went on to win a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, a truly historic one. Credit went to the players and the then coach, Graham Reid, from Australia. Yet, in 2022, the results were topsy-turvy, and out went Reid.
His replacement, Craig Fulton, has not had too much time with this team, yet the results have been nice. India won the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai last month, which was proof that Indian men’s hockey was not on the decline. In Hangzhou, scorelines have been high. Beating Pakistan was special and getting past Japan was also creditable. The challenge from South Korea will be a big one. And, this is like boxing’s KO, go for the finish.
Captain Harmanpreet Singh is aware of the challenge ahead. He knows Korea has triumphed in the Asian Games four times. On current form, the Indians are on a hot streak, thumping Bangladesh 12-0 in their last league match.
Indian team is still unbeaten in Asiad hockey so far
With a clean sweep of five wins in all five Pool A matches, India are unbeaten. But there can be no complacency. It was complacency that saw India suffer humiliation in the last Asian Games and coach Harendra was sacked. The biggest motivation for winning a gold medal here is direct qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“We have started strongly in the tournament and have won all our pool stage matches. It has given us a lot of confidence going into the final stages of the competition. We will enter the semi-final with a positive mindset. At the same time, we are also cautious that we do not allow ourselves to take any opposition lightly,” said Harmanpreet.
India last won the Asian Games title in 2014 in Incheon, South Korea, when they beat Pakistan in the final. PR Sreejesh was the hero in the shootout and the coach was Terry Walsh. Walsh lost his job after that, though, given Hockey India’s whimsical decision-making.
“In a long tournament, it is all about making correct decisions on the field and off the field. We know Korea’s strengths and their defensive capabilities. They are a strong unit and have done exceedingly well in the tournament so far. We know of their track record at the Asian Games,” added Harmanpreet.
For the record, in the Asian Champions Trophy, India had to fight hard to beat South Korea in Chennai 3-2. Since 2013, the two teams have faced each other 17 times. India won eight while six ended in a draw. Three matches were won by Korea. “Korea has traditionally been a tough opponent for us. But having played them recently we have a fair idea of what to expect,” said coach Craig Fulton.
The key for India will be to score early goals, a trend which has been evident during the Asian Games this time. However, the fear of what happened in the last Asian Games does linger.
In case you missed it:
- EXCLUSIVE: AFI President Adille Sumariwalla foresees bright future for India on the global stage similar to Asian Games
- Ojas Deotale rewrites history books to set up an all-Indian Men’s Individual Compound Archery final at Asian Games against Abhishek Verma