Scorelines in practice matches are essentially irrelevant. And the result of a warm up match composed of two 25 minute halves and a five minute break – as negotiated on field by opposing coaches – is hardly the matter of record. But those present at the National Stadium on Monday evening will note that India went down 4-3 on penalties to Argentina in a practice game ahead of the World Hockey League finals after the match ended a 3-3 tie.
Keeping in mind the nature of the game there weren’t any downcast faces on either side. Captain Sardar Singh who missed a shot in the penalty shootout at the end of the game, had a smile on his face as he shook hands with his rivals, as was the case with coach Terry Walsh on the sidelines. Roelant Oltmans, the technical director, even had a high five for Rupinderpal Singh who had scored off a penalty corner.
India, indeed, have enough to smile about. For a team that last played at the Hockey Asia Cup in August last year, there was little rustiness. The intention was to get everyone some playing time and despite the time out of the game there wasn’t a marked dip in quality. The seniors had a solid game — Sardar Singh was his effective best in the midfield, finding crosses with accuracy while VR Raghunath was tight defensively. Raghunath had also scored with a dragflick from a penalty corner early in the game and then had an assist, firing a free hit right to SV Sunil through a maze of Argentine defenders.
Amongst the youngsters, defender Amit Rohidas, who played in the disappointing Junior World Cup campaign, seemed right at home having moved up to the senior side. In one moment of brilliance, he first grabbed a loose ball in the circle after a penalty corner clearance and then burst free into the halfway area before sending a long pass that earned a penalty corner. Rupinderpal Singh would score clinically from that opportunity – one of two successful conversions from three attempts, a reasonable rate.
Hosts let it slip
Rupinderpal’s goal, some nine minutes into the second half of the game had made it 3-1 and if the game had ended there, one team would undoubtedly have returned grim faced. But 16 minutes were played out and that was where Argentina made it count as India let the work rate slip.
Until the first half, the Indian circle had been a no go area and attempts had only been long range ones more in hope than in intention of finding a friendly stick. But in the second half, they started getting closer, Sreejesh made a point blank save four minutes in, but he was beaten three minutes later. Twelve minutes in, Sreejesh was scored off from a tight angle. With four minutes remaining, Argentina earned their second penalty corner of the match and even though Sreejesh made a couple of brilliant saves, another PC was earned and this time there was no mistake in execution.
While there was little to choose from in the game between the two lowest ranked teams (India are ranked 10th in the world while Argentina are the lowest ranked side in the tournament at 11), India will face a far stiffer challenge when they play The Netherlands in their next practice game on Wednesday.