Netherlands 3,India 2. Its a painfully familiar scoreline. The last time it happened in a major hockey tournament was at the London Olympics last year. India never recovered from that deflating loss and went on to finish bottom of the heap.
Chances are,Fridays defeat to the Dutch in the opener notwithstanding,Manpreet Singh & Co. will still go very far into the Junior Hockey World Cup. In order to do so,however,they will have to significantly raise their performance at least from what they showed in the first half on Friday.
On a cold evening at the National Stadium,India took too long to hit their stride,by which time,at the end of 35 minutes,they were overrun by the Dutch. The first goal,which came in the 3rd minute,summed it all up.
Tom Hiebendaal received the ball on the right flank just outside the 25-yard line and dribbled past Kothajit Singh,Mandeep Singh and Pradeep Mor in a manner as if he was up against not under-21 internationals but schoolboys. One on one with Indian goalkeeper Harjot Singh,Hiebendaal passed the ball to Milan van Baal,who slotted the ball home from point-blank range.
Rattled,India hit back: First with a penalty corner,which was wasted,then with a stick to the head of van Baal by Amit Rohidas as blood came gushing out from the Dutch scorers forehead. Rohidas was lucky not to receive a yellow card,but it set the tone for an intensely physical match.
India drew parity soon,however,with Gurjinder Singh producing an unstoppable drag-flick that beat the Dutch goalie all ends up. The penalty corner had come after Akashdeep Singh had created a flutter in the Netherlands circle with sublime stick work. Easily Indias best player on the pitch,the young Akashdeep was to contribute once more later in the match.
But at this stage of the match,India gave the momentum right back to the Netherlands conceding two goals in two minutes. Both could be attributed to the sluggish defenders failing to clear the ball after the goalkeeper had made the initial save. In the 26th minute,Mark Rijkers got his name on the scoresheet after hustling Mor off the rebound. Then Van Baal,his forehead bandaged,hurt India,courtesy a similar lapse. The Dutch had a couple of more chances before the hooter. India trooped in at half-time disappointed by three goals,but perhaps a bit relieved too that they werent down by a couple of strikes more.
Before the tournament,Indias South African coach Gregg Clark had said this under-21 team had character,something recent Indian teams,senior or junior,didnt have. There was no better time than the second half to put it on display.
Indeed,the Indian team that walked out after the break was barely recognisable from the one that had trudged back 15-minutes earlier. Their forwards were sharp,their back-line was compact.
Seven minutes into the second half,India struck when Ramandeep Singh,who barely had any impact in the game up to this point,set up Akashdeep with an inch-perfect through ball. The striker shook off his marker to enter the D,drew the goalkeeper forward and made him commit.
At that point it looked like Akashdeep had taken too long to pull the trigger. However,from an improbable angle,he hit the ball on the dive to just about sound the inside right of the board.
Netherlands 3,India 2. That was to remain.
As the clock ticked away and the hosts pressed harder,the match became physical. Three Indian players Prabhdeep Singh (green),Mandeep Singh (yellow) and Satbir Singh (yellow) were disciplined,and India played their final 10 minutes with nine players. It made the Netherlands job easier.We were competitive tonight, said Clark,after the match. Though we conceded soft goals early on,we still defended reasonably well. We won the second half 1-0, he said. We need to be really focused in the the next two matches.
Results: Korea 7:4 Canada; Australia 5:2 Argentina; Pakistan 3:2 Egypt; Germany 1:3 Belgium; Spain 3: 4 France; New Zealand 2:3 Malaysia; England 1:2 South Africa; India 2:3 Netherlands.
saturday’s key games: Germany vs Pakistan: 4pm; India vs Canada: 8pm (Live on Ten Sports)
Belgiums show stopper
New Delhi,December 6
Perhaps the knowledge that there are no magnets behind great performances on the hockey field deterred the Germans. Otherwise,it is tempting to assume that the defending champions would have loved to tear off Arnaud Flamands hockey pads to see if the Belgian goalkeeper was hiding one. For no matter how much the Germans tried and they had 20 shots on target,twenty! except once in the 62nd minute,they just couldnt find a way past Flamand. The ball,it appeared,was repeatedly seeking him when the German forwards were seeking the back of the net.
Add to this breathtaking performance the Belgian forwards making the most of the chances that fell their way,and the European Under-21 champions walked away with a 3-1 result against the reigning World Champions. It was the first big result,if not really an upset,of the Junior World Cup that got underway at the National Stadiums on Friday.
Pool A is the so called Group of Death in this tournament,with Pakistan and Egypt being the other two teams. A loss in the first match would practically put the defeated side just one more loss away from crashing out of medal contention. Both Belgium and Germany,therefore,needed to put their best first foot forward.
Belgium started well and had the upper hand in the initial exchange as they looked to take Germany by surprise. Belgiums first attempt came in the third minute,and it would remain their only attempt for the next 26 minutes,as Germany gradually started asserting themselves. Their first bite came in the 10th minute when they got a penalty corner off their very first foray into the Belgian D. However,the ball couldnt be stopped for the drag-flick to be executed.
It was one-way traffic thereafter. Germany had six clear goal-scoring opportunities in the next 15 minutes but each of them deflections,reverse hits and dragflicks was spectacularly thwarted by Flamand. With every missed chance,there was a growing sense that it may come back to haunt Germany. Then it happened,in the 29th minute.
With one of their players,Alexander Schollkopf,shown the green card,Germany were with 10 men for the next two minutes. Belgium sensed their opportunity and pressed forward. They were immediately rewarded,with Maxime Capelle beating Mark Appel with a low diagonal hit to the left.
Germany hit back harder in the second half,but at the other end,Belgium scored again off counterattack in the 45th minute. With eight minutes left,Germany finally broke through,with Christopher Ruhr scoring off a penalty corner. Sensing at least one point,the champions came out in waves. It left holes in their defence,and in the 70th minute,Alexandre Van Linthoudt dodged two defenders before unleashing a fierce hit to the right of the German goalie. He didnt answer to the name of Arnaud Flamand.