India plays well, but surrenders at the finish; New Zealand is third
CHANDIGARH: They came in droves, well ahead of the start, and filled up every inch of space at the Sector 42 Stadium here. The fans were full-throated in their backing of the Indian team and held their breath in the closing moments when India mounted relentless raids to get the equaliser.
At the end of the game, the spectators could only hail the Netherlands for its wonderful show of resilience in winning the Punjab Gold Cup hockey tournament with a 2-1 verdict.
The Dutch played better when it mattered. In the closing stages when one little mistake could decide the champion, the Indians faltered. Two penalty corners went unrewarded and the home team could have hardly complained. India had five penalty corners against two for the Netherlands.
India played well but not well enough to win. It took the lead in the 43rd minute but surrendered it in the 46th minute before eventually going down by a 66th-minute goal. Robbert Kemperman and Player-of-the-tournament Jeroen Hertzberger were the Dutch scorers.
The tentative start was understandable as both teams tested each other, exploring new areas, while probing the flanks. The pace took time to pick up and India earned an early penalty corner from some deft stickwork by Shivendra Singh. The drag flick, however, was palmed away by an agile Jaap Stockmann.
The signs were ominous for the Dutch but they showed no inclination to shed their attacking instincts. A couple of forays by the Netherlands pushed the Indians back and the contest once again was reduced to dominant midfield play.
Even as Robert Horst strove to keep up the momentum with some superb square passes, the Indians left few gaps and often recovered quickly enough to stifle any Dutch designs to earn penalty corners.
Rajpal Singh, Arjun Halappa and Vikram Pillay were prepared to stretch themselves but the forward line lacked the cohesion and precision to score.
A couple of hard crosses went abegging, but credit to the Indian midfield for not easing the pressure. The overdependence on counter-attacks to create scoring opportunities left even the innovative Tushar Khandker a spectator in the entire first half.
Mediocre first half
The Dutch slipped into some rare wayward passing. In terms of quality, the contest was at best mediocre in the first half. The Dutch increased the pace but Gurbaj Singh, Dilip Tirkey and Prabodh Tirkey stood firm in the defence.
It was nowhere near the scorching pace that one saw during the two league encounters. Even off-the-ball running was average this evening, not to forget the unforced errors that showed the Dutch in poor light.
The second half saw the teams raise the pitch of the contest. The Dutch were more adventurous but it was India which scored through a penalty stroke conversion by Sandeep Singh. Shivendra earned the stroke when he was checked by Wouter Jolie after Prabhjot had set the move in motion. The Netherlands hit back soon from a stunning strike by Kempermann who deflected a slap shot in a melee.
India earned two penalty corners in quick succession but Sandeep was too cramped to have a perfect go on both occasions. The issue was sealed when Hertzberger scored from an indirect penalty corner conversion.
A desperate run by Vikram Pillay and a hopeful lunge by Prabhjot failed to shake the Dutch, the worthy winners tonight.
New Zealand took the third spot with a 3-2 verdict against Germany. Andren Hayward, Lloyd Stephenson and Joel Baker were the Kiwi marksmen while Moritz Furste and Oskar Deecke scored for the Germans.