Friday turned out to be a lucky day for Harjeet Singh and Co as, backed by the thunderous cheers of more than 15,000 spectators at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, India stormed into the final of the hockey junior World Cup with a 4-2 victory over powerhouse Australia in shootout.
The teams were locked in a 2-2 stalemate at the end of regulation time, but in the shootout, Vikas Dahiya came up with a stunning display of goalkeeping to ensure India’s entry into the hockey junior World Cup title round for the third time.
India will take on Belgium, who shocked six-time winners and defending champions Germany 4-3 in another nerve-wracking shootout, on Sunday. The last time India won the hockey junior World Cup was in 2001 and if they win on Sunday, it will be after a 15-year gap that they will be lifting the prestigious trophy.
The win also helped Harjeet and boys avenge the defeat at the hands of Australia in the final of the 1997 edition at Milton Keynes. Before losing to Spain in the bronze-medal tie in 2005, India had lost to Australia in the semifinal at Rotterdam. India have taken their head-to-head record against Australia since 2014 to 4-1.
Before the start of the semifinal, India’s goalkeeping coach Romeo James had a 15-minute chat with Dahiya, and that seems to have worked for the goalkeeper. The lanky boy was outstanding under the bar and twice he denied scoring chances to Matthew Bird and Lachlan Sharp, which made the difference in the end.
Despite conceding an early goal in the 14th minute to Tom Craig, Harendra Singh’s boys didn’t lose confidence and scored back-to-back goals through Gurjant Singh (42nd minute) and Mandeep Singh (48th) in the second half. The drama didn’t end there as, in the 57th minute, Australia netted the equaliser through Lachlan Sharp.
But luck seemed to be favouring the Indians on Friday. Skipper Harjeet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Sumit and Manpreet (Jr) found it easy in the shootout, ably dodging the Australian goalkeeper Ashleigh Thomas.
Unlike Thursday, when the hosts found the going tough before they beat England 2-1 in the quarterfinals, India enjoyed ball possession for most of the first half. But the Aussies’ counter-attack was potent on a few occasions, with Tom Craig scoring from the third attempt with a reverse shot.
The Aussies could have pumped in another goal in the 22nd minute when they earned consecutive penalty corners, but Dahiya stood in Blake Govers’ path.
A counter attack minutes into the second half saw Gurjant bring the much-needed smile on the faces of the Indians, finding the net from the left with a reverse flick.
The goal prompted India to press for advantage and six minutes later Mandeep scored his third goal of the tournament.
The clash between Belgium and Germany too lived up to expectations. And once again it turned out to be a goalkeeper’s game. Belgium rode on Loic van Doren’s superb display in shoot-out to register an upset win after the teams were locked in a goalless draw at the end of regulation time.