India conceded 21 goals through the World Cup, the third highest after Canada and South Africa and gave away 23 penalty corners, the fourth highest.
These may just be numbers but they only confirm what has been repeatedly seen during the tournament — the Indian defence was the team’s sore spot all through.
“We played very well between the two circles,” Brasa admitted after India’s loss to Argentina. That, perhaps, sums up India’s story in the tournament. The midfield held up the middle but the finishers at either end were unable to back them up.
Sandeep Singh was the only experienced player in the backline but he was completely outplayed. The other two — Diwakar Ram and Dhananjay Mahadik — had both been included as specialist drag-flickers, making India’s defence a trio of PC experts. But apart from Mahadik to some extent, neither of the other two managed to do anything that could be called defending, and they failed in converting penalty corners as well. “We gave away some easy goals in every match. The defence is a concern and it is an area we need to work on,” Brasa said on Friday, as he has said after every game.
In every match India played here, at least one goal was scored in exactly the same way — unmarked scorer in front of an open goal with no defender, ball being put past the goalkeeper and deflected in. Against Argentina, when Lucas Vila scored their third goal, he was standing in front of an open net, the Indian defence nowhere in sight. Against Spain, it was Pol Amat in a similar position.
“We left a player each in front of the posts unmarked (against Argentina) and we left their key player Fernando Oscar Zylberberg unmarked and we paid for it,” Brasa said. Rajpal Singh also accepted there were concerns at the back.
“We have lacked in defence and finishing,” he said. Asked if it was the lack of experience that hurt them, Rajpal agreed. “Yes, that is a problem. But it is not lack of fitness,” he said.
Rajpal also said that the team were missing Dilip Tirkey’s experience. “The biggest problem is not that we do not have him, but that there is no one like him around to replace him either,” he said. For long, the Indian defence, marshalled by Tirkey, had been their strongest point. Now, all of a sudden, it has become India’s weak link.