India continued their roller-coaster ride in the Hero Hockey World League Final. After a poor start and superb performance against Olympic champions Germany, Roelant Oltmans’ team fell back to old habits against defending champions, The Netherlands, losing 1-3.
But they knew that the real battle would start from the quarterfinals, and India brought their ‘A Game’ to the stadium. They played with a lot of energy, harried their rivals and defended stoutly to stun Britain 2-1 at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium. This was India’s first win over Britain in a major tournament since their 3-1 win in the Champions Trophy in 2012 at Melbourne.
Drag flicker VR Raghunath and Akashdeep Singh scored for India while forward Simon Mantell struck the lone consolation goal for Britain as India reached the semifinals of the HWL Final.
In a do-or-die clash, the odds were stacked in favour of Britain. They had remained unbeaten in the preliminary league and had beaten the mighty Australia. Despite the presence of a number of young players, Bobby Crutchley’s side was capable of beating any team on their day.
But Thursday belonged to India. They wrested the initiative early, dictated terms throughout the first half and did not commit their usual quota of unforced errors.
“We played fantastic hockey in the third quarter. We created fantastic goal-scoring opportunities, scored a fantastic goal. They put pressure on our defence in the final quarter but I must say in the end that we showed the right composure, energy and fighting spirit. I am proud of what I have seen from the boys today,” said coach Roelant Oltmans.
The Indians were unlucky not to win by a bigger margin as a hit by Ramandeep Singh came off the crossbar. midfielder Amir Khan and Akashdeep too failed to convert what looked like sure goals.
Raghunath sounded the board off India’s first penalty corner when the British defenders left a huge gap. With the midfield dictating terms, India controlled the second quarter too but could not add to the scoreline.
Switching ends changed the complexion of the match. Ramandeep rattled the woodwork in the 36th minute but the hosts could not be denied as Akashdeep struck within three minutes when Kothajit Singh found him with a long aerial ball in a swift counter-attack.