Just when it seemed like the Hockey Junior World Cup was over for India and there was nothing much left to fight for,the 9th to 12th classification results on Thursday set up a match which often overshadows everything else in the subcontinent: an India-Pakistan clash.
Out of the last-eight race,India defeated Argentina 4-2 late in the evening after Pakistan had hammered South Africa 4-0 to give some relevance to their respective campaigns.
A day before Sundays final,the two teams will play their final for the 9th place a win in which will be massive consolation for either side of which much was expected. It will also mean immense pressure,something these young players from both sides havent handled well so far. Indias coach Baljit Saini was already trying to underplay the significance of the encounter.
India showed what difference playing with abandon can make to their game. Liberated,they controlled the pace of the match in a manner they havent in the tournament so far.
While they were guilty of conceding early goals in their previous three matches,on Thursday,they opened the account first,and then quickly doubled the lead. In the fourth minute,Ramandeep Singh,who had barely made an impact so far in the tournament,neatly collected a long ball from Pradeep Mor near Argentinas striking circle. He then beat two defenders on the turn and slammed the ball home through the goalkeepers legs.
Two minutes later,Ramandeep played his part in setting up the second goal. He picked out Talwinder Singh in the circle who drew a foul out of his Argentine marker. Penalty corner.
In their previous matches,whenever India got their first PC,they would invariably have their No.1 drag-flicker Gurjinder Singh sitting on the bench. Today,it seemed,India could do no wrong. Gurjinder was on the field,ready to take the flick,but pusher Ramandeep passed it to Satbir Singh,who set it up for Amit Rohidas. The defenders didnt expect it and mistakenly charged towards Gurjinder,while Rohidas,with a clear view of the goal,took a low hit that beat the goalkeeper on his right side. Six minutes. India 2,Argentina 0.
Such was the home teams domination early on that they made a circle penetration nearly every minute in the first quarter or so. Argentina,meanwhile,didnt get so much as even a whiff of the ball in this period. Argentina got back-to-back penalty corners in the 18 and 19th minutes,but Harjot Singh,back as Indias goalkeeper after the think tanks failed experiment with Sushant Tirkey in the last game,was alert under the bar.
India came close to scoring again in the 25th minute when Mandeep Singhs shot was blocked by the goalkeeper while Ramandeep reverse-hit the rebound just wide. The balding Ramandeep,the hottest property in Hockey India League,then scored a stunning solo goal in the 32nd minute. Having received a pass from Talwinder Singh near the centre line,Ramandeep dribbled around a defender,dodged three more as he sliced through the defence and into the circle.
Then,on the dive,he unleashed a thunderous hit to beat the advancing goalkeeper on his near side. He pretty much won India the game with this goal,but hurt himself in the process.
Argentina came back with intent after half-time and nearly pulled one back in the 37th minute when Lucas Martinez drew a diving save out of Harjot. The Sky Blue-Whites didnt have to wait for long and scored in the next minute,with Carlos Ibarra deflecting a Gonzalo Peillat slap-hit.
India,however,made it 4-1 in the 40th minute,with Gurjinder scoring his fifth goal of the tournament off Indias second penalty corner.
Argentina reduced the deficit in the 68th minute with Martinez scoring off a penalty corner improvisation. But they couldnt take full advantage of the drop of intensity in Indias play.
A better team,like Pakistan,may.
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