Just one day after Craig Fulton attributed India’s impressive second-half performance against Malaysia to their fitness levels, the Indian hockey team displayed a contrasting final quarter against Korea in the Asian Champions Trophy. Despite a lackluster fourth-quarter performance, India managed to secure a 3-2 victory and secure their place in the semifinals.

The unexpected decline in India’s performance during the final quarter was in stark contrast to their performance during the first three quarters of the game. They demonstrated sharpness in regaining possession, creativity in their attacking strategies, and patience when facing a deep-defending Korean side. Despite a field goal conceded, India maintained their attacking prowess, taking an early lead through Nilakanta Sharma’s well-timed finish after Sukhjeet Singh’s precise cross.

“We had to battle,” Fulton told ESPN after the game. “But that’s why it’s important to score goals when you’re playing well. We were 3-1 up, which gave us some room.”

Maintaining their momentum, India regained the lead in the second quarter with a low dragflick executed by Harmanpreet Singh. Mandeep Singh’s exceptional reverse hit added to India’s lead, showcasing the team’s attacking capabilities.

However, India’s performance dipped in the final quarter, and they struggled to connect passes and execute simple plays. Despite conceding numerous penalty corners, India’s defense managed to hold, with Amit Rohidas and Manpreet Singh’s impressive first-rushing skills keeping Korea at bay. Harmanpreet Singh had a chance to widen the gap with a penalty stroke but was denied by the Korean goalkeeper, which marked a turning point in the match according to Fulton.

“They play so low. Their plan is almost to lure us high, and then win the ball with space for them to play their game,” Fulton assessed.

Manpreet later said that India’s first rushers have a simple way of functioning. “We ensure we cover the left side so that the goalkeeper has enough space to make a save on the right.”

The veteran midfielder also lamented India’s performance in the fourth quarter, saying that they made some basic errors which could’ve been avoided. “They had nothing to lose, so they came hard at us in the fourth quarter. We played three very good quarters, but made mistakes in the fourth, which is what we will now work on,” he stated.

Fulton though was pleased to see his side come through a tough fight. “They had the momentum, took their keeper off, and came at us, but we fought, which is good. We are not always going to have games go our way,” the Indian coach stated.

Despite the challenging final quarter, India’s earlier dominant play and determination allowed them to secure a hard-fought victory. The match provided a valuable opportunity for Fulton to observe another side of the team’s performance before the Asian Games, highlighting their resilience and adaptability in challenging situations. Such experiences will likely prove beneficial as the team aims to secure their spot in the Paris 2024 Olympics next month.


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