France counter-press with aplomb as India pays for multitude of mistakes

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Four days after beating France 5-0 in their 2022 FIH Pro League opener, the Indian hockey team were expecting a rude awakening, losing 5-2 to the same side in Potchefstroom. Not only was the loss a near reversal of the previous result, but it was also the first time India had lost to France since 2004.

India should be worried about how France managed to counter their deep press – successfully employed in their previous two matches. At the same time, India should have exploited the chances it had much more.

Dangerous opponents

On paper, world No. 13 France beating world No. 3 India is a surprise. However, it is clear that this French team preparing for the 2024 Olympics on home soil is a much more capable team than the rankings and their loss earlier in the tournament. to suggest. India benefited from a two-month training camp, but France had only just come together after the floor hockey season in Europe; arriving in South Africa just two days before their opening game. Indeed, France did not take very long to find its bearings. Just a day after their 5-0 loss to India, they battled against the Netherlands, only losing in a shootout after holding the Pro League’s best performers to a 2-2 draw.

beat the press

With their significantly improved fitness standards over the previous Olympic cycle, India were able to successfully apply high pressure on their opponents. The press pushes opponents onto the back foot, where they run the risk of making critical errors in their own half. This is exactly how India beat France 5-0 and South Africa 10-2 in their first two matches. Over the past two days, it’s clear that France has been studying the footage of their defeat and coming up with tactics to counter it.

On Saturday, India surged down the right flank, pushing the French defender, in a bid to open up space. They were countered by the French moving another defender into this area, opening the liberating fire. France kept their cool under pressure, moved the ball sideways and opened up the pitch when they had the chance, negating India’s most used tactic.

Errors

The high press – with its emphasis on leading numbers – is also a strategy with little room for error. If the Indians try to dazzle their opponents with the speed of their overtaking, the French are up to it, forcing India to make many mistakes. In the second quarter of the match, when France were leading 2-1, only 61% of India’s passes had found their way to their target. With the Indians stepping into the press, there were opportunities available on the counter and that’s where France was lethal.

Defensive errors have also been a problem for India – Viktor Lockwood’s volley entered the goal through the legs of PR Sreejesh – an unusual error from the keeper voted the best in the world last year. France’s third goal also came from a penalty corner which was awarded after defender Varun Kumar was hit in the foot by a ball kicked by his own team-mate.

Bad finish

India’s mistakes probably extended to their scoring opportunities as well. With about two minutes to go, India seemed to have the momentum. They had just scored a goal to reduce a 3-1 deficit and were preparing for a penalty corner that could have tied the game 3-3. Instead, the shot was cleared and France ended up winning a penalty corner on the resulting block – which they converted. India’s missed corner was their 10th of the game.

While credit must be given to a French side that had their best defensive game in the Pro League, the fact that an Indian side with three quality sparkles (who had already scored 6 times so far) went 0/ 10 in the short turns on Saturday was another unlikely stat. India’s poor finish was the dominant narrative of the match. India put the ball into France’s shooting circle almost twice as often as their opponents (35-18), but it was the French who took advantage of their chances.

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