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Dramatic finish sees India through

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HAIL THE HERO: Bharat Chikkara opened the account for India as the team held its nerve at the death this time to down Argentina in a crucial encounter. _ PHOTO: AP.
HAIL THE HERO: Bharat Chikkara opened the account for India as the team held its nerve at the death this time to down Argentina in a crucial encounter. _ PHOTO: AP.

S. Thyagarajan

Ipoh: In a dramatic finish, India overwhelmed Argentina to wrest a slot in the semifinal on goal difference in the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament here on Wednesday.

All that India needed was a win by the narrowest of margins. A draw would have been sufficient for Argentina.

Till three minutes before the hooter everything pointed towards Argentina denying India that important goal. But Bharath Chikkara turned the match upside down with an immaculate deflection of a cross from Tushar who developed on the move by Roshan Minz.

Even as the clock was ticking to the 70th minute came that fitting finale with Tushar Khandekar thundering into the goal from the top of the circle.

"It's a perfect build up for a young Indian team," a beaming Carvalho said after the match.

Quite understandably, he refrained from naming one player, but was delighted from the way the mid-field shaped throughout. However, he was a bit disappointed that Raghunath got his second card, which will prohibit from appearing in the semifinal on Friday against Malaysia.

Australia will take on Korea in the other semi-final.

Approbation deserved

The Indians deserved the approbation they received from their supporters here. They played to a pattern, weaving skilful moves and defending tightly. Vickram Kanth in the mid-field was outstanding both in his interceptions as well as distribution. The deep defenders, Harpal and Xalco were steady as was the left half Prabhodh Tirkey.

Almost throughout the first half, the Indian frontline was individualistic. The aesthetics was evident but the formations lacked the punch to penetrate and disturb the tight Argentine defence. There were a few misses too, Minz making a hash of a chance inside the circle and then Tushar frittering away an opportunity off a cross from Prabhjot Singh.

However, the attack maintained its rhythm supported by the hard working mid-field. The only discordant note that doused the optimism of making it was the yellow card for Raghunath. The Korean umpire, J.W. Lim looked a bit confused as who the offender was but finally picked up Raghunath after getting the nod from the other umpire, Ludwig of Australia.

Just as one thought the match was slipping away into a draw, the two goals surfaced contributing to a memorable finish.

It must be mentioned here that India is defending the bronze here. The win on Wednesday compensated for the 2-3 defeat at the hands of Argentina in the World Cup at Monchengladbach.

Australia swamps China

Australia showed why it is the Olympic Champion and a world leader while decimating whatever challenge that China had posed to ensure a place in last four. The 7-2 verdict mirrors the agony of the Chinese and the dominance of the Aussies.

Australia spent over a quarter of an hour to gauge the depth of the Chinese strength before opening up the floodgates. They subdued the spirit and enthusiasm of the Chinese, who forced three penalty corners within 13 minutes, progressively.

Once Russell Ford struck from a free hit by Josh Hawes, the Aussies gained the upper hand and scored at will. What needs to be commended however was the way in which China fought gamely throughout, scoring from a penalty corner by Yi Song at the end of the regulation time.

Pakistan's dream of a semifinal berth was disintegrated by the force and fierce fighting qualities of the Koreans in the match that was resumed on Wednesday.

When suspended on Monday owing to a power failure the teams were 2-2 after 28 minutes of play in the first half.

Outplayed

The Pakistanis were outplayed in the 42 minutes. For no palpable reason, they went on the defensive mode, on the strength of the fact that all they needed was a draw. But the Koreans played aggressively, never letting down their guard even for a second.

The Koreans forced six penalty corners (totalling nine for the match), flunked a penalty stroke, but struck twice. If the margin was restricted to 2-4, it was because of the efficiency demonstrated by Salman Akbar under the bar. He saved the stroke from Kim Chul. He smothered the power-packed penalty corners by Jeong and Yoon Sung with beaming non-chalance. Yet, the pressure finally broke his resistance as Jeong slugged in a penalty and Yoon Sung enhanced the lead close on time.

The results: Pool A: Korea 4 (Moon Kang, Jeong Yun Sang 2, Yoon Sung) bt Pakistan 2 (Tariq Aziz, Imran Muhammad). Pool B: Australia 7 (Russel Ford 2, Matt Nylor, Brent Livermore, Grant Schubert 3) bt China 2 (Zhi Meng, Yi Song); India 2 (Bharath Chikkara, Tushar Khandekar) bt Argentina 0.

Points table: (read played, won, draw, lost, goals for, goals against and points):

Pool A: Australia 3, 2, 0, 1, 8, 3, 6; India 3, 2, 0, 1, 7, 5, 6; Argentina 3, 2, 0, 1, 4, 4, 6; China 3, 0, 0, 3, 8, 15, 0.

Pool B: Malaysia 3, 2, 1, 0, 5, 2, 7; Korea 3, 2, 0, 1, 5, 3, 6; Pakistan 3, 1, 1, 1, 6, 6, 4; Canada 3, 0, 0, 3, 0, 5, 0.

Thursday's matches: Classification (5-8) China-Pakistan (3-35 p.m.); Canada v Argentina (5-35 p.m).

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