At the end of a bitterly fought quarterfinal, coach Harendra Singh choked down a lump in his throat as he sought to explain India's exit from the Hockey World Cup on Thursday. The result had seemed an anti-climax -- the stands at the Kalinga stadium were overflowing with spectators, who had cheered raucously at every Indian offensive, but were entirely subdued as the final seconds ticked away and India fell to a 2-1 loss to Netherlands.
Harendra lashed out at the two umpires for a host of decisions that, in his opinion, cost India the game. Remarking about the penalty corner that resulted in the decider being scored -- it was given owing to a stick check -- and Amit Rohidas' 10-minute suspension in the fourth quarter, Harendra said, "It was not 11 players against 11. It was 11 against 13."
This, of course, wasn't the first time Harendra had analysed that a side would be playing with extra players in a hockey match. A day before the match, Harendra had said the crowd at the Kalinga stadium would be India's "12th man".
Dutch coach Max Caldas, on his part, dismissed the claims that his side benefited from the officiating. "The stats will show that the better side won," he said. "We had the better circle penetrations (20 to 13), the more penalty corners (five to two). The team with most chances wins the game."
The biggest difference, both Caldas and Harendra might agree, was that the young Indians failed to cope with the high-pressure situation of a World Cup quarterfinal, and, to a lesser extent, with Harendra's 12th man -- the 15000-strong crowd at the Bhubaneswar Stadium. The mass of fans, expected to be an overbearing pressure on the Dutch, appeared to overwhelm the Indians.
"They definitely didn't help India," was the assessment of Japan's coach Siegfried Aikman, who was watching the matches at the Kalinga stadium. "When do you think the crowd was cheering? Were they cheering when India had the ball or when Holland had possession?" he says.
In fact, the crowd was largely silent when the Dutch side had the ball. Their noise grew when India had the ball and then rose to deafening levels when India were breaking with it. The difference between good teams and very good ones is that the latter know how not to fall into this trap, making the situation work to their advantage by using it as fuel and not as handbrakes on their mental machines.
Whenever, energized by the crowd, India ran with the ball, they ended up conceding turnovers once they crashed into the Dutch defence. Case in point was Simranjeet Singh's run to the goal 11 minutes into the game -- dodging and weaving past two defenders to the right of the goal as the crowd noise grew to a fever pitch. Instead of passing to an unmarked Lalit Upadhyay in front of the goal, he turned and hit his own shot wide.
"The crowd was encouraging India but it was encouraging bad behaviour from the team," Aikman said after the game. Of course, the bad behaviour itself was being committed by professionals who should have known better.
After a difficult opening half where the Dutch held on against the Indians' repeated runs, they found their way back in the second half, simply by playing to their strengths. "We were a bit too sloppy in the first half. At halftime we said, 'guys, let's just make sure we keep the ball with ourselves. Then as long as we had the possession we were not in any trouble,'" forward Jeroen Hertzberger said after the match.
'India cannot blame it on the umpires entirely' - Selvaraj
Hosts India were dumped out of the hockey World Cup as Netherlands fought back from a goal down to register a 2-1 victory in Bhubaneswar
Coach Caldas also agreed with that. "We actually spoke about holding the ball for longer. The first half we played a running game, but we wanted to play a passing game. We didn't concede on our speed of the game, but the way we went about it, [was to] hold the ball and make them chase the game," he said.
Ultimately, while the Dutch went about playing their short passes and managing to hurt India on the counter, the hosts' desperation to find the winner ended up costing them the match. This is nothing on the crowd at Bhubaneswar, as much as the inability of the Indians to recognise that by trying to rush things in the match, they simply played into the hands of what their more seasoned opposition would have been best prepared for.
Caldas summed it up best about how the Dutch team played the atmosphere better than the home team.
"[Captain] Billy Bakker told me, 'This is what we are playing for. Playing in front of this stadium and against this team. This is why we are playing hockey,'" he said.