Losing to Pakistan “was never an option”, Roelant Oltmans said after India ran out 3-2 winners against Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy final, echoing the sentiments of a billion Indians. The Dutchman said he had managed enough such matches to understand the relevance of an Indo-Pak face-off.
The 63-year-old had previously coached Pakistan, and said having worked with both countries he understood how much a win against their bitter rivals meant to the fans. Oltmans claimed that being the tournament’s top seeds had put more pressure on the team.
"Losing was not an option. I have been in about 20-25 India-Pakistan matches, mostly on India's side. I know what it means for people in both countries. It's a very important game and there is no option other than winning. We did it. And that's not easy. It's different for us," explained Oltmans.
"Even in the Asian Games, we were not the favourites, as we were not the top ranked Asian team. Then suddenly we are the top ranked Asian team and other teams are chasing us. It brings a different kind of pressure. It's also a different style of play than what we would employ against Germany or Australia."
Oltmans, who joined the National team setup as high-performance director, outlasted three coaches and the win secured his first serious piece of silverware as Indian hockey coach.
Rupinder Pal and Affan Youssuf gave India a 2-0 lead before Pakistan levelled through goals from Muhammad Bilal and Ali Shan. A Nikkin Thimmaiah goal eight minutes from time saw India through.
Oltmans was particularly pleased with India's never say die attitude throughout the tournament, where they dug themselves out of difficult situations against Malaysia, South Korea and Pakistan in the previous rounds.
"It's a great win, and I think in the first 20-25 minutes we played outstanding hockey. We took a 2-0 lead, but then we started to make mistakes in the final part of the first quarter. Pakistan equalised, and just when it seemed to be getting critical, I think for the third time in the tournament, the team raised its level and we were able to score the match winner," Oltmans said.
"We have been down before in the tournament — against Pakistan, Malaysia and Korea, but we have been able to come back. That shows the mental strength of this team."
Towards the business end of the tournament opponents used the aerial ball as their main strategy against the Indian defence that looked to be struggling against long balls. Oltmans praised Pakistan for switching the strategy as soon as India started getting comfortable in dealing with long passes.
"I believe that they used the aerial ball in the first and second quarter and after that we discussed it. By the fourth quarter, they stopped the aerial ball and played a different style. I think we made many unforced errors. But we stuck to the plan and we had four big chances," Oltmans said.
"Sitting outside and watching the match is not easy. You have a plan and the players stick to it. But it sometimes comes unstuck, because the opposition might change their plans and you have to adapt. But this is a team that does that very well. They stick together and play as per the plan."
Pakistan coach Khwaja Junaid called for more matches between the two countries to improve the standard of play and make the sub- continent teams more competitive against the rest of the world.
"Once we (India and Pakistan) used to play 8-9 matches in one series, and I think we should come together in hockey and play more matches. I can assure you that we would come up to the level of Australia, Holland and other nations if we do so," Junaid said.