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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Champions Trophy: India, Netherlands share spoils

PR Sreejesh pulls off a string of last-minute saves to help side salvage a 1-1 draw and confirm a place in Sunday's final

By: Express News Service | Published: July 1, 2018 11:46:16 am
PR Sreejesh and India defence in action against Netherlands in the Champions Trophy PR Sreejesh was once again a rock for India against Netherlands in the Champions Trophy. (Source: Hockey India)

As is their habit, India nearly lost it at the end. With just five minutes remaining, they allowed the Netherlands to comeback into the match. Thierry Brinkman’s goal restored parity for the Dutch after Mandeep Singh had given India the lead in the 47th minute.

This was the final round-robin match of the Champions Trophy for both teams, with Netherlands needing a win to qualify for Sunday’s final whereas India needing just a draw. Going by that scenario, India were still in the driver’s seat to face Australia on Sunday but with every passing second, Netherlands were coming closer than ever to finding the elusive winner.

With less than two minutes to go, Jereon Hertzberger’s fierce hit snuck in between PR Sreejesh’s legs and into the goal. It looked like India, for the nth time, would lose a match by conceding late goals. But they protested a goal and demanded a review. What appeared to be a hasty decision turned out to be a a shrewd one, as it turned out that the two Netherlands’ players did not maintain the mandatory four metre distance while taking the free hit that led to the goal.

The decision was overturned but with less than a minute to go, Netherlands earned three back-to-back penalty corners, which were brilliantly saved by Sreejesh. Eventually, the hooter went off and the relieved Indian players sank to their knees, doing just enough to qualify for the final.

It’s a remarkable change in fortunes for a side that looked woefully out of form just a couple of months ago, when they struggled at the Commonwealth Games. But Harendra Singh, returning as the national team coach after seven years, brought back senior players who made all the difference as India reached their second consecutive Champions Trophy final.

Sunday’s match will be a repeat of the 2016 final, where India played out of their skin to hold Australia to a 1-1 draw after regulation time, but lost in the tie-breaker.

Early pressure

India had a great chance to take the lead early on but SV Sunil failed to control the ball from a goalmouth melee. India kept up the pressure on the Dutch defence and earned a penalty corner in the third minute but Harmanpreet’s powerful high flick was saved by Netherlands goalkeeper Sam Van der Ven.

Another penalty corner came India’s way in the 13th minute but they wasted the opportunity while going for a variation. The second quarter witnessed a much even contest between the two sides till the 25th minute when Netherlands secured two back-to-back penalty corners, the second of which was brilliantly saved by Indian custodian PR Sreejesh.

A minute later, Netherlands were rewarded with another set piece when the ball hit Harmanpreet’s foot inside the D but once again Sreejesh averted the danger. The Dutchmen continued to press hard in the final few minutes of the second quarter but the Indian defence just did enough to avert any dangerous situation as both the teams went into the halfway break locked at 0-0.

Two minutes into the second half, Netherlands had a great chance to take the lead but Sreejesh came to India’s rescue from an open goal position. It took India 47 minutes to break the deadlock through Mandeep’s rebound from a penalty corner after Harmanpreet’s effort was blocked by the Dutch defence. It woke Netherlands up from their slumber. They made multiple raids inside the Indian ‘D’ but were unable to beat Sreejesh.

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