Hockey Junior World Cup 2016: India show awareness beyond their age to pip Australia, enter final

This junior Indian hockey team may not sport badges of experience, but they surely know how to outsmart their opponents. Against an Australian side that was using counter-attacks like flash punches in a boxing ring, India decided to use mind over physicality.

Having lost the first half to the Australians’ superior tactical skills, and a goal down, India came back strongly, using pace, intensity and an awareness beyond their playing years. The Australians were eventually worn down 4-2 in the shoot-out, giving India the ticket to the Junior World Cup final. India now plays Belgium in the summit clash on Sunday.

Indian players celebrate after defeating Australia in the Hockey Junior World Cup semifinal in Lucknow on Friday. PTI

Indian players celebrate after defeating Australia in the Hockey Junior World Cup semifinal in Lucknow on Friday. PTI

Indian players celebrate after defeating Australia in the Hockey Junior World Cup semi-final. PTI

At the end of regulation time, India and Australia were locked two-all. In fact, after equalising 1-1 through Gurjant Singh in the 42nd minute, India took the lead, with Mandeep Singh scoring a spectacular goal in the 48th minute. Lachlan Sharp brought Australia back on level terms on the 57th minute. But the shoot-out saw India hold their nerve and outwit Aussie goalkeeper Thomas Ashleigh.

High-intensity matches create smaller moments when teams grasp and strangle their opponents. Indian coach Harendra Singh didn’t agree with the criticism that in the first half India found it difficult to hold on to a structure. “I prepared the team mentally as well as physically,” said Harendra. “I don’t agree we lost structure. The best thing about this team is that we never lose structure.”

However, it was evident that in the first half players were not creating enough space to rotate the ball and nor did they build up attacks. Turn-overs which went Australia’s way created massive pressure on the Indian defence. In more than four attacks from the flanks, crosses were hit into the Australian striking circle with hope written on them rather than a well-thought out plan. A few players did play to the gallery constantly losing the ball to the Aussies.

Australia’s opening goal came in the 14th minute off their first penalty corner. The execution wasn’t neat but a dozing Indian defence allowed Kurt Lovett to take a quick shot which Vikas Dahiya saved, but the rebound was smashed in by Tom Craig.

India were distinctly lucky that Australia couldn’t trap their next two penalty corners properly. Australia knew that they needed to make the most of their chances against an Indian side that could rip them apart. But India struggled for rhythm and some manner of superiority in the midfield. In the latter part of the first half, Australian goalkeeper Ashleigh brought off two smart saves. With a minute to go for the break, a horrific error by Aussie captain Samuel Liles saw Simranjeet Singh snatch the ball and with Ashleigh in front, his flick rolled past the goalpost. At the end of the first half, Australia had seven circle entries to India’s four and more shots on target too. India had to turn the match around and they had to do it early before Australia could shut shop or score one more.

After Australia was unsuccessful with their fourth penalty corner at the start of the second half, India held the ball for long periods. Suddenly there was intent. If Australia brought players back into defence, India rotated, looking for space but not wasting moves, constantly trying to create an opportunity.

There was a moment of magic for India in the 42nd minute when Simranjeet raced away with the ball, three-four Aussies in front, furiously back-pedaling. Simranjeet’s deft left tap found Gurjant who sprinted away as the Aussie defenders tried catching him. Gurjant smartly went wide and in what must be his most spectacular goal, smashed the ball past the goalkeeper with a reverse shot.

Players find it difficult to score off reverse hits when they are standing with space in front. But Gurjant sprinted and in the same motion stunned Australia with the equaliser.

Australia were in disarray as the Indians found their rhythm. Control was key. With Harjeet slightly off-colour, Simranjeet was taking the mantle of the provider in the midfield. The forwards were exerting huge pressure on the Australian defence. And the error came in the 48th minute. Mandeep hustled Joshua Simmonds as his scoop didn’t even clear the circle with Mandeep pouncing on it. He gave it to Nilakanta Sharma who drew the Aussies to one side and then tapped it back to Mandeep, superbly positioned in the middle of the striking circle. Mandeep’s reverse shot beat Ashleigh all ends up as India took a 2-1 lead. Both the goals for India came off reverse hits.

Australia fought back with two penalty corners and then found the equaliser with a soft goal that bamboozled most of the Indian defence before Sharp found to his amazement that his deflection had entered the Indian goal. Australia had a seventh penalty corner but yet again couldn’t trap cleanly. A shoot-out was looming as India ran down the clock.

Shoot-outs aren’t a lottery anymore. Smart goalkeepers can create movements that hoodwink forwards and likewise. But here India played a waiting game. Patience is needed even though you only have eight seconds. After Blake Govers gave Australia a 1-0 lead, Harjeet made it 1-1 even after his first push was stopped by Ashleigh; luck does create momentum too. Matthew Bird was successfully hustled by Indian goalkeeper Dahiya who refused to give an inch of space, finally swatting the ball away. Harmanpreet made it 2-1 with Dahiya again successful against Sharp. Sumit made it 3-1 and it looked curtains for Australia. Jack Welch opened the door a bit for Australia when he scored. Manpreet hammered in the final nail in Australia’s coffin as India won 4-2.

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 11:04 IST

Leave a Reply