If there was a legal betting system in place for India, Ewout Pahud de Mortanges, a Dutch hockey coach who was part of the orange minority at the Kalinga Stadium, would have made a billion bucks. Before the start of India vs Netherlands, arguably the toughest match to call in the tournament, the 27-year-old went with a 2-1 win for his team. When the final whistle blew marking the end of the quarter-final fixture, the Dutchman’s prophecy came true. In the process, he also ended up predicting an end to India’s journey at the 2018 Hockey World Cup.
A crowd of 15,000, including the aforementioned orange minority, had crowded in the stadium for the match and most of them may have walked back dismayed and disappointed but that was only after they witnessed a truly fierce contest between the two teams. India coach Harendra Singh started off the post-match presentation with an apology – “I apologise to the public I could not do what all of them had their hearts set on,” he said.
So, what went wrong in the match? The first two quarters were brilliant for India as they pressed forward in the Dutch half. With less than five minutes to go in the first quarter, Simranjeet Singh got a shot away from the counterattack, only to be blocked by the Dutch defender. A minute later, India received a penalty corner from which they converted – courtesy Akashdeep Singh. The goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak blocked it but it was pushed back to Akashdeep who calmly used his left hand to put it behind the back of the net, while the Dutch defence allowed him a free shot.
But just at the close of the first quarter, the Dutch equalised with a stroke of luck, with Thierry Brinkman getting his stick on a shot towards the goal from the offside position. But the goal did little to deter India’s confidence and they continued to press till half-time.
After the break, things changed. The Netherlands parked their players inside India’s half while the latter were having to defend for most of the time. Nonetheless, there were no dearth of chances for the home side. Whenever India received the ball, they put men forward – Simranjeet and Akashdeep combined beautifully to threaten the Dutch defence. But the positioning from the latter left a lot to be desired.
On two occasions, Akashdeep was a bit ahead from where the ball was passed to him inside the circle and he missed the chance to strike it into the net.
With pressure building, India finally conceded a penalty corner and Mink van der Weerden made the hosts pay in the second attempt. With 10 minutes still on the clock, India tried to put the pressure on by keeping possession and putting men forward. A penalty corner in the penultimate minute gave hopes to the returning Indian fans to stop and take a look. But the equaliser never came.
The Netherlands will now face Australia in the final and coach Max Caldas said he is not worried about that for now. “I want to go home, take a bit of rest and think about it later,” he said.
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