FIH Pro League: India roar back, beat Australia in shootout
The seasoned forward sounded determined. The hosts were disappointed after losing the first match to the defending Pro League champions 3-4 despite pulling back two goals in the final quarter.Updated: Feb 22, 2020, 22:17 IST
Ten minutes before pushback, India’s rested players Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh and SV Sunil were in the stands, watching Australia warm-up. “It was a narrow loss yesterday. We could have pushed them to the shootouts. But we will beat them today,” Mandeep said as he keenly observed the Australians.
The seasoned forward sounded determined. The hosts were disappointed after losing the first match to the defending Pro League champions 3-4 despite pulling back two goals in the final quarter.
But India carried forward that late momentum into the second game at the Kalinga Stadium on Saturday to beat the world No. 2 outfit 2-2 (3-1) via the shootouts, earning their first victory over Australia since November 2016.
India matched Australia for pace, equally shared possession (50%), and made 28 circle penetrations to Australia’s 27. More importantly, goalkeepers PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak, who are changed every quarter, saved all nine penalty corners and a penalty stroke to help the world No. 4 side beat Australia for the first time in 10 meetings.
The seasoned Sreejesh came to the rescue again, keeping out three of four Australian attempts in the shootouts—only Daniel Beale scored—while India vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh, FIH Emerging Player of the Year Vivek Sagar Prasad and Lalit Upadhyay all converted.
The game took off in high tempo and the visitors earned their first penalty corner 31 seconds into the match, which a flying Sreejesh saved with his right hand. Australia forced three more penalty corners in the first quarter but the Amit Rohidas-led defence rushed into drag-flicker Jeremy Hayward each time to thwart the attempts.
India regularly counterattacked as the game constantly shifted from one half of the pitch to the other. Soon, Australia converted a penalty corner but an appeal for obstruction on Sreejesh was upheld by the video umpire, ruling out the goal. In the 17th minute, an unmarked Jarmanpreet Singh missed a big chance, his slap going just wide of the left post.
Australia who broke the deadlock when Trent Mitton (23rd min) converted from the narrowest of margins. Pathak was beaten at his near post despite not leaving much space, but Mitton still squeezed in the hit.
India counterattacked to earn three back-to-back penalty corners, Rupinder Pal Singh (25th) converting the first to bring India on level terms. His low flick through the legs of Australia goalkeeper Tyler Lovell was Rupinder’s fifth goal of the tournament.
India missed their second PC as Harmanpreet’s flick was saved by Lovell, but earned another and the vice-captain scored his first goal of the tournament, to put India in the lead.
It looked like India might finally beat Australia, after a clean slate in the third quarter. But Australia pulled level within a minute into the fourth quarter when an unmarked Aran Zalewski (46th) in the circle slapped in the ball.
Australia were also awarded a stroke in the 33rd minute, but Tim Brand missed it, sending it into the right post.
India kept pressing in the final quarter but Vivek Prasad and Nilakanta Sharma missed multiple chances before Australia’s final PC—11 seconds from the hooter—was saved.