The Indian hockey team pulled off a sensational come-from-behind 5-4 win over Olympic champions Germany after Mandeep Singh slammed a brilliant hat-trick in their fiercely-contested 5-8th place classification match of the Hero World League Finals in New Delhi on Friday.
World ranked 10th, India rode on Mandeep’s (18th, 41st, 53rd) three field goals and Rupinderpal Singh’s two perfect strikes from penalty corners to set up the fantastic win against the Germans, against whom India last won way back in 2004 in the Champions Trophy in Lahore, Pakistan.
In the end, it was a fair result for India who drew 3-3 against the Germans in the pool stages.
India will now face Belgium in the fifth-sixth place play-off match tomorrow, while Germany will take on Argentina to avoid the wooden-spoon in the eight-nation tournament.
In today’s match, it was the world number one Germans who enjoyed the early share of exchanges by taking a two goal lead through skipper Oliver Korn (4th) and Thilo Stralkowski (6th) before Benjamin Wess (27th) made the scoreline 3-1 in favour of the world champions at half time.
After the change of ends, Germany found the back of the India net just once when Martin Haner converted a penalty corner in the 55th minute.
The Indians, however, were slow to get off the blocks as Germany took the initiative from the onset with relentless attacks.
The Germans put the Indian defense, their perennial problem, under tremendous pressure from the word go and surged ahead as early as in the fourth minute when captain Korn gently tapped home a pass from Tobias Hauke.
Two minutes later, Stralkowski doubled Germany’s lead by perfectly converting their first penalty corner.
The Germans continued their aggressively style of play and created a couple of bright scoring chances only to waste them.
India, however, managed to pull one back in the 18th minute through Mandeep, who slammed home from the right corner of the German goal after receiving a through ball from Rupinderpal Singh.
A minute later, Germany got another scoring opportunity when they earned their second penalty corner but the Indian defense was up to the task this time.
Ten minutes from half time, Indian custodian P R Sreejesh came to his side’s rescue by pulling off a brilliant save with his legs to deny Tobias Matania from close range.
But Germany restored their two-goal advantage in the 27th minute through Wess, who scored from a rebound after Florian Fuchs initial shot was saved by Sreejesh.
Trailing 1-3, the Indians came out a completely different side after the crossover. Unlike the opening half, Sardar and Co. looked organised and coordinated, showing promise in their forays.
India built the pressure on the German defense from the opening minute of the second half and pumped in two goals in a span of three minutes to level the scores, much to the delight of the handful crowd present at the stadium. India earned their first penalty corner just three minutes into the second half through a referral and Rupinder scored with a variation to reduce the margin.
Minutes later, Mandeep scored his second goal of the day after he was set up by a fine move from Birendra Lakra nd S V Sunil from the right flank.
India, thereafter, came close on two occasions — first when Affan Yousuf hit the top of the cross bar from Sunil’s cross and secondly when Dharamvir missed a sitter from top of the circle after a brilliant run by skipper Sadar Singh on a counter-attack.
Germany also wasted a golden opportunity to score when Hauke shot wide a penalty stroke in the second half.
But Mandeep was brilliant upfront today and scored his hat-trick in the 53rd minute by getting the faintest of touch to deflect in V
R Raghunath’s cross as India took the lead for the first time in the match.
But India’s joy was short-lived as Germany equalised two minutes later when Haner scored from their second penalty corner with a powerful grounded flick to the left of an outstretched Sreejesh.
The Germans had the better share of possession in the last 10 minutes of the game and threatened India with continuous raids but the home team defense stood tall to keep the Olympic champions at bay.
Just when it seemed the match was heading for a penalty shoot-out, India earned their second penalty corner just 30 seconds from the hooter and Rupinder made no mistake in slamming home the ball to send the crowd into frenzy.
Meanwhile in the first 5-8th place classification match earlier in the day, Belgium defeated Argentina 3-1 in penalty shoot-out after both the teams were locked at 1-1 after the regulation 70 minutes of play.
Images: Ravi Kanojia, Indian Express