It probably could not have been scripted better. India have yet to win a match in the Hero Hockey World League. They are playing Olympic Champions and World No.1 Germany, and are trailing 2-0 after five minutes.
They go into the first half 3-1 down. They fight back to lead 4-3, before Germany levels the scores again. With less than a minute to go, India earn a penalty corner.
They wait for the clock to run out. India have been notoriously poor in PC conversions, scoring only two in five games. Someone, however, forgot to mention that stat to Rupinderpal Singh. The push is fast, the stop is clean. He calmly slots it in. The whistle blows for the last time and it ends 5-4 to India. The Germans appeal and refer, claiming the ball has been stopped from inside the circle. It hasn’t and the result stands.
If you are a cynic, you could argue: no, it could have been scripted better. India could be playing a semifinal instead of cheering a result in a random classification game.
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A cynic is unlikely to be a hockey fan in India though.
Anyway it’s been five years since India beat Germany in a hockey match of any kind. If you want to limit your search to an official FIH game, you will have to dial the clock back nine years to the Champions Trophy in December 2004 when India won 3-1.
It is perhaps appropriate that Rupinderpal scores the last goal and gets mobbed by his teammates. The player of the match award may have gone to Mandeep Singh for his three goals but his taller teammate must have run him very close for that oversized cheque.
Five minutes into the game, the fans, on a bitterly cold Friday afternoon, are glumly staring at a scoreboard that reads: Germany 2, India zilch. Thilo Stralkowski has confidently smashed in a drag flick to the center of the net, two minutes after Oliver Korn taps in a deflection. Germany aren’t used to finishing outside the medals and it seems India will have to bear the brunt of their frustration. Sardar Singh has switched to a defensive role but the move is meant to be anything but defensive.
Suddenly you spy Mandeep Singh getting a brilliant pass. He beats his marker and scores from an incredibly tight angle. The pass has come down the center from Rupinderpal. 2-1 to India.
India, probably, can thank Michael Nobbs a bit. The former Australian coach first utilised Rupinderpal Singh in a center-forward role, in the Lanco Super 9’s in Australia. Rupinderpal, who has since been slotted in as the defender/drag-flick expert, showed his versatility. As if he wants to prove he hasn’t forgotten old tricks, he rushes from the goal mouth, steals a ball from the stopper and nearly converts a German PC into a successful Indian counter.
Germany extend their lead to 3-1, through Benjamin Wess (25th minute) but India aren’t done. They come back strong after the break with a PC in the 37th minute, earned after a referral. Raghunath sells the dummy and Rupinderpal scores down the center.
The PC is earned by SV Sunil, another star on the day. He appears to gets a lot more playing time at the WHL compared to Nikkin Thimmaiah or Yuvraj Walmiki and that is not a bad thing. The slightly built Thimmaiah clearly can’t bully burly defenders and at least in this tournament, hasn’t been able to out-turn them consistently enough. Walmiki has worked hard moving up and down the field tirelessly but has been limited to one flank, which makes him a far simpler opponent to counter.
Sunil meanwhile, constantly had the German defenders hollering at one another as he charged down one flank before steaming down another a minute later. Indeed, India’s ability to switch flanks effortlessly was probably what was the biggest takeaway, tactic-wise from the game. Sunil is back in action in the 40th minute setting up Mandeep Singh from close range.
Germany are sweating. Unlike Australia, who constantly attack and leave no breathing space in the course of their 7-2 hiding of the hosts a couple of days ago, the Germans inexplicably retreat to their half and let India recover.
The pressure clearly tells on Tobias Hauke, who misses a penalty stroke in the 47th minute.
Instead it is India who have the lead when Mandeep gets his hattrick with a deflection, this time with a cross off Raghunath in the 52nd minute. Germany claw back through a PC conversion by Haner two minutes later but the see-saw match swings India’s way, this time, decisively.
Even if you are a cynic, that is something to cheer about.
Dutch test for NZ
Netherlands will play New Zealand in the finals of the tournament. Australia fought back from 2-0 to take a 3-2 lead, but Jeroen Hertzberger (62’) brought the Netherlands back into the race while Mink van der Weerden (66’) put the game beyond Australia’s reach when converting his second penalty corner of the game.
New Zealand meanwhile overcame a 5-1 defeat to the same opponents in the league phase to beat England 7-6 on penalties after the match finished level at 1-1. Belgium meanwhile will play India in the 5th-6th spot playoff after beating Argentina 3-1 on penalties after the match had ended 1-1. Argentina will play Germany with both teams looking to avoid finishing last.