Two goals to nothing down, with ten minutes to the final whistle, India finally appeared to have got one on board against England.
On their fourth penalty corner, Rupinderpal Singh fired a hard and low volley to the left of England wicketkeeper George Pinner, then raised up his hand to receive high fives from his teammates. The drag flicker thought he had scored. As did his team. Celebratory music was played and the crowd cheered in agreement.
Only, the England team disagreed, calling for a referral. It turned out Rupinderpal had drag-flicked from inside the circle. No goal. The score remained 2-0 after 70 minutes.
It was that sort of a day for the hosts. Little went right for them and that was because there was little that they were doing right themselves. They perhaps enjoyed greater possession but failed to create chances. When they did send balls ahead, little came of the efforts. Their forwards inspired little confidence and never looked like beating the English defence.
India did manage to earn four PCs but failed to convert any. Of the five PCs that India gave away, two were unnecessary.
The game started promisingly. India were first off the blocks, earning two PCs in quick succession in the 14th minute. The first by VR Raghunath earned the second, but Rupinderpal shot that chance well wide. And when England’s Simon Mantell shot past a beaten PR Sreejesh ricochetted off the far post in the 17th minute, it seemed even luck was on the home team’s side.
India escaped unharmed even after a couple of PCs went England’s way – the second after Raghunath tripped and then attempted to do the same to an England forward. The first hit by Ashley Jackson grazed the bar and went wide and the second was palmed to safety by Sreejesh. It was third time unlucky for the home team.
The PC was gifted eight minutes before half-time when Kothajit Singh slipped then stretched his stick only as far as David Condon’s legs. Adam Dixon scored after a dummy attempt.
Even though the side trailed after the first half, there were some positives. India attempted a three-man defence and Raghunath, Rupinderpal and alternatively Birender Lakra and Amit Rohidas did a fair job. That meant the strengthened midfield could hold the ball better. In the second half, however, discipline was lost, passes went awry; all this when the forward line continued to waste opportunities.
Yuvraj Walmiki never seemed part of any move and SV Sunil and Mandeep Singh had a poor day. Sunil was crowded out by the English defence in the 39th minute and a few seconds later, failed to trap a great pass by Sardar Singh.
Nikkin Thimaiah had earlier fluffed perhaps India’s best chance of a field goal in the 26th minute of the first half when he failed to trap a perfect cross from Sunil. The only forward who could return with some honour intact was debutant Affan Yousuf. He out-turned the larger English defenders and even earned a couple of penalty corners. While the second saw Rupinder shoot early, the first was wasted when Lakra failed to stop the ball itself.
In between, Dixon scored his second goal of the match in the 45th minute. The initial hit was blocked by Sreejesh but the ball only went as far as an unmarked man, who did the rest.
After the match, India coach Terry Walsh tried to sound optimistic as he listed out the areas his side did well at. He reiterated that India had been playing a team ranked fourth in the world. “We actually had moments where we could have changed the game,” Walsh said. “In fact, I feel we were able to deliver on a few areas. Our physiology was good but we were not that disciplined on the pitch. But it was a productive first step,” he added.
Netherlands Upset India’s performance was in contrast to the one displayed by the lowest ranked team in the tournament. World No. 11 Argentina produced the biggest upset yet when they beat Olympic silver medalists the Netherlands 5-2. The result wasn’t the outcome of luck for the South Americans never trailed at any point in the game.
Argentina meant business by scoring in the game’s second minute off a PC conversion by Gonzalo Peillat. And while the Netherlands responded three minutes later with a PC conversion of their own from Mink van der Weerden, Argentina took the lead again in the eighth minute after a diving effort from Facundo Callioni.
Netherlands appeared to find a second wind when Seve van Ass levelled through a brilliant piece of skill, hitting a reverse flick from a tight angle in the 50th minute. There would be no shift in the momentum, however.
Argentina Pedro Ibarra converted a PC in the 56th minute. Then the goal of the match followed four minutes later. Juan Martin Lopez passed to Augustin Mazilli just outside the circle.
Mazilli circled around his marker, returned to Lopez, who in turn crossed to Guido Barriedes. He shot perfectly from right in front of the goal. Juan Ignacio Gilardi completed the score with a penalty taken three minutes from time.
In other matches, Germany crushed New Zealand 6-1 while Australia overcame Belgium 3-2.