Hailing the Indian team's runner-up display in the 9th Asia Cup, former hockey international Merwyn Fernandes slammed the umpiring error in the final moments of the summit clash in Ipoh, Malaysia against Korea which cost them the title.
"It was a very impressive performance, especially considering that the coach (Roelant Oltmans) took over the reins just two months ago. The youngsters, like Mandeep Singh, Ramandeep and Nikkin Thimmiah, who replaced seniors like S V Sunil, did pretty well. But bad umpiring cost them the final," the three-time Olympian, Fernandes told PTI.
India, captained by Sardar Singh, lost to Korea 3-4 yesterday after making a fine comeback in the second half after trailing 0-2 at half time.
Fernandes was referring to the umpire's decision to award a penalty corner to Korea following a tackle on a rival attacker by India's Rupinderpal Singh that led to the title-deciding goal.
According to the former inside right, who watched the match on television, the tackle by Rupinder was clean and should not have been penalised.
"It was a clean tackle that should not have been penalised. That wrong decision by the umpire cost us the game," said the member of the gold medal winning team at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, thus endorsing the views of two Indian players on the incident in Malaysia.
The resultant penalty corner hurt India badly as Kang Moon Kweon made no mistake with the chance and converted it two minutes from the end for the championship-winning goal.
Fernandes praised the performance of goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, the team's vice captain, and defender V R Raghunath, while also giving a thumbs up to Oltmans for bringing in the necessary changes in the Indian players' styles.
"Raghunath, in the past, would take cards needlessly, but it seems someone has impressed upon him about how important is his presence at all times on the field. In this tournament he kept his cool, tackled and re-tackled brilliantly and was outstanding," said Fernandes.
Raghunath was declared as the player of the tournament.
"Sreejesh was fabulous and showed his class like the goalkeepers of other top teams. He rescued the team with his brilliant saves time and again in the league phase," he said about the player who was named as the best goalkeeper in the tournament.
Praising Oltmans, Fernandes said the Dutchman's valuable tips to the players could be seen in the way players moved away to create spaces after passing the ball and also keeping the ball close to the stick while dribbling deep in the rival area.
"These are little things but make a big difference," he said.
"We also had our lucky mascot M K Kaushik with the team and after he joined it (as Oltmans' deputy) I expected the team to win the title like they had done in the Asian Games (at Bangkok in 1998)," said Fernandes in lighter vein.
But the former player said it was now important for the junior coaches to inculcate what is being taught by Oltmans and learned by the seniors so that the younger lot could easily make the transition when the time arrives.