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Tokyo Olympics: India’s ‘Alternate’ plan seals a quarterfinal berth in men’s hockey | Tokyo Olympics News – Times of India

July 29, 2021
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NEW DELHI: When Hamanpreet Singh let out that shriek after scoring India’s third goal against Argentina on Thursday, the emotion reverberated at the spectator-less Oi Hockey Stadium.
The psyche seemed injured after a punishing 1-7 defeat against Australia. To come back and win the next two games only shows the fabric this Indian team is made of. And that character was reflected in the players’ body language.
If the 3-0 win over Spain was a renewed expression of interest towards a medal bid, the 3-1 job against Rio Olympics gold medallist Argentina was a show of domination that put a tick mark against the first objective — securing a place in the quarterfinals.

(PTI photo)
Experts believe it’s a format that makes the 12-team Olympic competition a tournament of three matches for all top teams. With four teams from a pool of six progressing to the quarters, it’s more often a matter of where they finish in the top four than whether they finish in the top four.
But after the hammering at the hands of the Aussies, India put their math books aside and focused on finding practical solutions to avoid the anxiety of depending on other results to stay in the top-four bracket.

(PTI photo)
That’s when Chief Coach Graham Reid decided it’s time to use the ‘Alternate’ option.
Covid-19 forced the International Olympic Committee to modify the rule of 16 players per team by allowing all nations to add two players who can be brought in as replacements in the 16 before every match. These two players were named the ‘Alternate Players’.
For India, Simranjit Singh and Varun Kumar filled that role; and Reid decided to bring them in for the games against Spain and Argentina.
“These two have had the biggest impact in India’s game,” said former India striker Jagbir Singh talking to TimesofIndia.com
Simranjit provides the team a dual option in the midfield and in attack. To be precise, he’s an attacking midfielder who has grown since scoring that famous goal in the 2016 junior World Cup final against Belgium.
He didn’t let his coach down and scored the opening goal against Spain. India haven’t looked back since then.

“Simran’s off-the-ball movement is very good. Secondly, Varun fortified the defence. He is very versatile. His short-distance aerials are his USP,” Jagbir added.
Varun also gave Reid the option to surprise the opposition with a different drag-flicker than the team’s regular penalty-corner experts Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh who have been widely studied by oppositions.

(Reuters photo)
Varun’s inclusion worked to a nicety as well when he joined India’s list of goal-scorers by disturbing the net off a penalty corner to score the opening goal of the game against Argentina.

“The Spaniards didn’t expect that the ball would go to Varun (for the penalty corner he scored off). Secondly, he was also slightly lucky as his drag was deflected off a Spain defender,” Jagbir further told TimesofIndia.com.
“For me it’s more about confidence, more about watching your team from outside and then realising that these are the areas that, when I fit in, I will try to help the team improve upon. Sitting outside and watching the first two matches as Varun and Simranjit, I can see where the shortcomings were,” Jagbir explained.
“This is what these two kids have done. Plus, after the win against Spain, our two key players — Rupinder and PR Sreejesh — have made a comeback (to form).”
Argentina came back to draw parity at 1-1, but the young Vivek Sagar Prasad was quick to latch onto a rebound at goal-mouth to put India ahead 2-1 late in the fourth quarter, before Harmanpreet raised his hand in triumph after converting a penalty corner in the dying minutes.
India comfortably outnumbered the Argentine circle entries but could have finished some of the moves better to make the final scoreline look more dominating. Such misses can hurt badly in the knockouts.
“Good performance today. This is what Argentina can do. They sit back in the game, and then all of a sudden they score off a (penalty) corner,” said Reid after the game on Thursday.

The coach was particularly happy that the Indian shoulders didn’t drop, like in the game against Australia, in which the defence cracked open and the players looked clueless against repeated Australian attacks.
“It was good that we didn’t let that (Argentina equaliser) frustrate us. We stayed patient and stuck with the game plan,” the Australian said.
“Now, we will also be keeping an eye on what happens in the other pool.”
With nine points in the bag and a game against hosts Japan to play, India are confirmed of a No. 2 finish, behind world No. 1 Australia who currently have 12 points from four wins. Even if the Aussies are upset in their last match and India beat Japan, the healthy goal difference will keep Australia on top of Pool A.

(Reuters photo)
But there was a major shake-up in Pool B on Thursday.
South Africa went on to stun Germany 4-3 and Great Britain held Netherlands to a 2-2 draw. India will play the team that finishes third in Pool B. At this stage, Great Britain are ranked third, but results in the final pool games can change all that. However, Belgium have sealed the No. 1 spot in Pool B with an all-win record and a big positive goal difference.
For India, it doesn’t matter who they play in the quarters. The eight-time former champions will be desperate for a win to end the jinx by entering their first Olympic semifinal in 41 years.





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