The similarities in the two goals Argentina scored in the final quarter of play were striking. They got the ball to the left flank and whipped in a low, hard cross inside the ‘D’. On both occasions, striker Agustin Mazzilli waited near the penalty spot, sneaking in behind the defense at the right moment. The first time, Mazzilli simply had to tap in the ball inside an open goal from two yards out to give Argentina the lead for the first time in the match. Minutes later, they replayed the pattern. This time, Mazzilli was blocked by an onrushing PR Sreejesh but Joaquin Menini was there to pounce on the rebound, scoring Argentina’s fourth goal and putting the result beyond any doubt.
Caught on the counter
Those two goals the World Cup bronze medallists scored in a span of 10 minutes in the final quarter summed up the dreadful day the Indian defense had. The threat Argentina possess from counter-attacks is known. High performance director Roelant Oltmans and captain Sardar Singh acknowledged the need to be cautious against the South American’s penchant for scoring on the break.
Yet, India failed to contain them. Not once, but on four occasions. More than the damaging score line, what would hurt India more is that the 4-2 defeat has completely laid bare India’s defence and the indiscipline to execute game-plans. Monitoring both teams performances from the stands, the Australian coaching staff couldn’t hide their amazement at the frailty shown by the Indian defence and the manner in which they conceded goals.
For a few moments, the scoring pattern resembled a basketball match. The sleeping Indian defence was twice caught off guard by Argentina’s counter-attacking approach, pulling back goals barely seconds after going down.
India took the lead in the 30th minute when Gurjinder Singh played a delightful cross-field pass towards Akashdeep Singh that was poorly dealt with by the Argentine defence. The young striker slotted it past goalkeeper Juan Vivaldi to give India the lead.
However, even before the players could return to their positions, Argentina struck back. It was a mirror image of the goal India scored, with Gonzalo Peillat whipping in a cross that was deflected in by Lucas Vila seconds later.
Gurjinder put India ahead yet again in the 37th minute with a powerful drag-flick to Vivaldi’s right. However, Rupinderpal Singh failed to trap a long ball played inside the Indian ‘D’ and an alert Juan Lopez scored the equaliser with an overhead smash, giving Sreejesh no chance to make save.
Sreejesh, hero of India’s match against Germany despite the defeat, was guilty of making several wrong decisions. The lack of communication between the defenders was evident in the last two goals Argentina scored. VR Raghunath, Rupinderpal and Birendra Lakra looked out of sorts.
To their credit, India looked the better attacking sides of the two for a major part of the match. Akashdeep and SV Sunil kept the Argentine defence on their toes with young Lalit Upadhyay doing his bit. Gurbaj Singh continued to hold fort on the right and combining with Dharamvir Singh, he created havoc on the flank. But as was the case against Germany, India lacked quality inside the box.
Crucially, though, each time they moved forward, India looked more and more vulnerable at the back. Backed by a boisterous crowd, the Indian got carried away rather. They played to the gallery rather than sticking to their plans; making aimless, darting runs instead of sticking to their passing game. The structure-less performance resulted in several gaps being left on the field. And in desperation to score the third goal, there were plenty of empty spaces which were duly exploited by the Argentines.
Sardar later said the ‘overenthusiastic’ crowd had had reverse impact on the players, who tried too hard to get things going their way. While they will have little control over the crowd’s cheering in the upcoming matches, India would hope to get their house in order for the Dutch test awaits them on Tuesday.