It was a near packed house, with thousands of fans braving chilly conditions and carrying India flags, lining up in an unending file at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here on Monday evening. They were all anticipating another scintillating performance from India, the title winners in 2001.
As expected, Harjeet Singh and his boys did not disappoint as they marched into the quarterfinals of the hockey junior World Cup for men, brushing past South Africa 2-1.
The hockey junior World Cup win helped India top Group D and set up a last-eight clash with Spain, who finished second in Group C. India forged ahead in the 11th minute through Harjeet, whose deft reverse hit from the right following a cross from Manpreet Jr found the goal.
The highlight of the hockey junior World Cup opening half was the near dominance of the hosts, who made several forays into the rival zone, but lack of initiative near the goal proved their undoing. The perennial problem of poor penalty-corner conversion came back to haunt India, as they missed two opportunities.
Despite India’s upper hand, South Africa did try to create openings but couldn’t mount a serious challenge because of the stout Indian backline. But minutes before the break (28th minute), they converted a penalty corner, with drag-flicker Kyle Lion-Cachet’s powerful hit sounding the boards in a flash.
The Proteas altered their strategy after the equaliser, restricting India’s forward thrust with man-to-man marking. India had a fine chance to nudge ahead in the 45th minute, but Nilkanta Sharma’s rasping shot hit the side bar.
But 10 minutes later, the hosts found joy when Mandeep put India ahead. And, finally, a brilliant save from ’keeper Vikas Dahiya a minute before the hooter ensured India’s smooth sailing into the quarterfinal. Mandeep was adjudged ‘Man of the match’ for the second time in the tournament.
Australia, Belgium in quarters
Australia and Belgium too cruised into the last eight. While Australia defeated debutants Austria 4-2 in Group A, Belgium thrashed Malaysia 3-0 in Pool B to maintain an all-win record. The Netherlands beat Egypt 7-0 in Pool B to finish their league engagements behind Belgium.
With two wins from as many games, Australia lead the pool with six points and look set to top the pool even if they lose to Korea in the final group match, which looks unlikely. Now, Australia will play the Netherlands, while Belgium will be up against Argentina in the quarterfinals scheduled Thursday.
Argentina, who beat Korea 5-1 in Group A on Monday, qualified for the quarterfinals on the basis of better goal difference. Both Argentina and Austria had finished their pool engagements with four points from three games but the former sailed through on better goal difference.