Goalkeeper P R Sreejesh’s magnificent effort went in vain as Olympic champions Germany scored a late goal to beat hosts India in their opening Pool B match of the Champions Trophy at a packed Kalinga Stadium.
If not for Sreejesh, the margin of defeat for India could have been higher as the Kerala custodian made innumerable number of saves to keep India in the match.
But an error of judgment in the final minute of the game cost Sreejesh and India, a point, as Florian Fuchs was quick to pounce on the opportunity and score the winner.
Sreejesh rushed to tackle an onrushing Fuchs but he mistimed his jump and then the German striker kept his cool
and turned the ball around Sreejesh before putting it into the net with a reverse hit just 34 seconds from the final hooter.
It was tipped as the most high-profile match of the evening but it was the Germans, who dominated the proceedings and created chances galore.
The Indians played well in patches but it was their defence, which felt the heat of continuous raids from the Germans, who had the better share of chances in the first quarter.
The reigning Olympic champions earned two quick penalty corners inside the opening 10 minutes, the second of which resulted in a penalty stroke for the Germans as the umpire thought the flick struck on rushing S K Uthappa’s hand. The Indians immediately objected and went for the referral which they won.
In the final minute of the opening quarter India got a golden chance to take the lead when they earned their first penalty corner of the match but Gurjinder Singh’s grounded flick was saved by Nicolas Jacobi in the German goal.
The two teams kept up the pace and created chances in the second quarter but it was Germany who had the better share of exchanges.
Sreejesh lived upto his reputation and denied the Germans on at least two occasions in the second quarter.
He first denied Christopher Ruhr’s try before he kept at bay Martin Zwicker’s forehand shot from top of the circle in the 25th minute to keep a clean slate at the breather.
The Germans came out attacking after the change of ends and secured their third penalty corner soon but once again they found a rock in front of Indian goal in Sreejesh. The Indian custodian made an acrobatic save to keep away Moritz Furste’s powerful high drag-flick.
India mounted some good attacks but their forwards, especially Ramandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah fizzled out once inside the striking circle. Both the strikers looked poor in their anticipation and reflex.
Sardar too had a chance to break his goal drought when Dharamvir Singh’s pass found him alone inside the circle but the Indian skipper failed to gather the ball with an onrushing German goalie Jacobi in front of him.
Then it was Akashdeep’s turn to waste another chance as he failed to connect his reverse shot from a SV Sunil pass from the right flank.
Sreejesh was definitely the centre of attraction in front of Indian goal as he came to his side’s rescue for the umpteenth time in the match.
He first padded away Pit Arnold’s shot and then dived to his right to keep out captain Tobias Hauke’s try from Germany’s fourth penalty corner.
But Sreejesh’s efforts went up in smoke when Fuchs scored the goal in the dying minutes to break the hearts of the capacity crowd.
India will next play Argentina tomorrow, while Germany will be up against the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, World No 2 and World Cup silver medalists the Netherlands outclassed Argentina 3-0 in another Pool B encounter earlier in the day.
The Netherlands earned as many as five penalty corners in the first quarter but could convert only one occasion when Mink van der Weerden’s drag-flick found the net in the 12 minute.
The Argentines, who surprised everyone by clinching the bronze medal at the Hockey World Cup at The Hague earlier this year, also had their chances in the match only to see them go in drain.
The Dutch doubled their lead in the second quarter when Robbert Kemperman (19th), better known back home as Mr. Backhand, converted a beautiful pass from Sander Baart with a reverse shot.
With 11 minutes from the hooter Diede van Puffelen scored the maiden goal of his senior international career to hand the Netherlands a convincing victory.