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Asian Games 2014: In Incheon, India almost in Rio

With 1-0 win over Korea in semifinal, Sardar and Co. take on Pakistan for gold and a place in 2016 Olympics.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Incheon |
Updated: October 1, 2014 9:55:01 am
Akashdeep Singh celebrates after scoring the winning goal against South Korea in the semifinal on Tuesday. India won 1-0 (Source: PTI) Akashdeep Singh celebrates after scoring the winning goal against South Korea in the semifinal on Tuesday. India won 1-0 (Source: PTI)

When Michael Nobbs picked Akashdeep Singh for the Champions Trophy two years ago, he had little idea about the player. The only thing he knew was that the Ludhiana lad was the quickest player of the lot, and also the youngest. But in the aftermath of Olympics debacle, Nobbs had to blood some fresh legs into the team and Akashdeep perfectly fitted into the scheme of things. It was a plunge into darkness. But Nobbs was secretly confident.

Nearly two years after making his debut and displaying indifferent form, Akashdeep finally rose to the occasion on Tuesday. The 20-year-old scored a spectacular goal despite being under pressure from two South Korean defenders to lead India into the final of the Asian Games. The 1-0 win at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium helped India reach their first final since the Busan Games.

Twelve years ago, India beat South Korea 4-3. However, to win their first Asiad gold since the 1998 Games, India will have to overcome defending champions Pakistan, whom they lost to in the group stage encounter. Pakistan beat Malaysia 6-5 via tie-breakers in a repeat of last year’s final.

India weren’t convincing against the Koreans. Chief coach Terry Walsh spoke about the ‘processes’ and how the team was growing as the tournament progressed. But the style they adopted was effective. As is the case often, India did not move up in droves while attacking. Perhaps, Walsh was wary of the speed at which Korea break.

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Instead, India played a patient game. They were by far the dominant side over the entire 60 minutes and controlled the proceedings from the word go. The Koreans played catch-up hockey throughout the match but failed to break the resolute Indian defence. There was hardly any clear scoring opportunity for the Koreans, whereas India threatened the opponent’s goal throughout the encounter.

Dharamvir’s mistake

Dharamvir Singh missed a sitter in the fifth minute as he overran a pass from SV Sunil with Korean goalkeeper Myungho Lee to beat. Three minutes into the second quarter, India earned two back-to-back penalty corners but Lee made fantastic saves to his right to deny VR Raghunath a goal.

After a goalless half time, India kept up the pressure and mounted numerous raids on the Korean citadel only to be disappointed by the misfiring forward line.

While Akashdeep’s goal was the high point, Walsh would be worried about the form of his other forwards. Ramandeep Singh and Gurvinder Singh Chandi once again proved to be a big let downs. They duo either kept mistiming their runs or ran into wrong spaces as the attacks formulated by the lively midfield were wasted. Once again, Gurbaj Singh was brilliant on the right wing, constantly making darting runs into the Korean half. On the opposite flank and through the middle, SV Sunil did the same.

Stretched, the Koreans started leaving plenty of space in the midfield. And Indians took advantage of it in the 44th minute. Ramandeep slid in a pass from centre toward Akashdeep, who was standing near the top of the ‘D’. With his back facing the goal, and nowhere else to go, Akashdeep showed presence of mind to slap the ball hard, into the ground. The goalkeeper, surprised at the Indian striker’s decision to shoot, was unsighted and in no position to make the save.

A goal up, India defended as if their lives depended on it. The defence, which has come under plenty of scrutiny after a habit of breaking down under pressure, had a fantastic outing. Birendra Lakra, Raghunath, Manpreet Singh and Rupinderpal Singh stood like a rock to thwart any danger to their goal.

Tense finish

Trailing by a goal, the Koreans mounted attacks on the Indian goal in the last quarter of the match but failed to break the stubborn Indian defence. It was a tense last five minutes of the match for the Indians as they were forced to fall back and defend. Sardar Singh barked out instructions, urging his teammates to slow things down and play against the clock.

Eventually, they held out. “We knew they would come all out at us. Korea had nothing to lose. But we implemented our game-plan of scoring a goal and defending well. We’re glad we pulled it off,” Sardar said.

Women’s team eye bronze

The gold medal already out of their grasp, Indian women’s hockey team will be eyeing to return at least with a bronze when they take on Japan, in what can be regarded as a revenge encounter, in the third-fourth place play-off on Wednesday.

The Indian eves dished out a spirited display before losing 1-3 to last edition’s silver medallist Korea in the semifinal on Monday. — PTI

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