Kuantan (Malaysia), 29 Oct : India defeated South Korea in the semi-finals of the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament here on Saturday to set up a title clash with arch-rivals Pakistan.
The Indians held off a strong challenge from the Koreans to win 5-4 (2-2) via penalty shoot-out in the first semi-final of the day.
The two sides were locked 2-2 at the end of the regulation time. For India, Talwinder Singh, Ramandeep Singh found the target in the regulation time while Seo Inwoo and Yang Jihun scored for the Koreans.
In the penalty shoot-out, Sardar Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep and Rupinder Pal Singh scored as India entered the final.
Rupinder also stepped up to convert the penalty stroke which was awarded to India after South Korean goalkeeper D. Hong hit the legs of Birendra Lakra with his stick during the fifth and final shootout effort.
Indian captain and goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh, who took his place under the bar after being sidelined for two round-robin matches due to an ankle injury, stopped the fifth and final South Korean player in the penalty shoot-out, paving the way for India’s win.
The second semi-final also had to be decided by penalty shoot-out as Pakistan scripted a 2-3 (1-1) victory over gritty Malaysia.
The arch-rivals from the sub-continent will meet in the final on Sunday.
Earlier, India tried to build up the early momentum right from the push-back at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium by penetrating the Korean defence.
But the South Koreans stood solid against India’s probing attacks as they denied many attempts by applying sharp man-to-man marking.
Despite the various failed attempts, the Roelant Oltmans-coached side played with the same attacking strategy and soon it paid off as in the dying minutes of the first quarter.
Talwinder, who was not in his prime touch in this tournament, found some space and played a reverse hit to give India a vital 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.
Soon after conceding a goal, South Korea started counter-attacking and received their first penalty corner of the match but missed the chance for an equaliser.
In the second quarter, the South Koreans seemed much more disciplined and it paid off as a defensive error by Rupinder saw South Korea equalising in the 20th minute of the game. Inwoo slammed into the Indian net after Rupinder failed to trap the ball cleanly.
India, unlike the first quarter, tried to bring down the pace of the game. It seemed like they lost their momentum after the South Korean equaliser but soon the Indian mid-field started rotating the ball with purpose.
In the dying minutes of the second quarter, India got many chances to take the lead including a penalty corner that was denied by the South Korean custodian as both the teams went to half-time 1-1.
After the half-time, South Korea played with eight men in the circle while defending to look out for counter-attacks.
Soon the strategy paid off and they got a chance to take the lead but Rupinder denied it.
After witnessing this, India made their move and started pressing the Korean defence. In this process they got their third penalty corner but failed to convert it.
The third quarter saw India playing with the same strategy as they were playing in the first quarter but a crowded South Korean defence and predictable moves did not allow them to take the lead.
Both teams exchanged many shots and a few penalty corners in the final minutes of the quarter but failed to make the mark.
In the fourth quarter, South Korea were the first to get a penalty corner in the 53rd minute and they successfully converted it.
Yang Jihun’s goal helped them take the lead as Sreejesh was beaten by a low flick.
The drama unfolded in the last five minutes of the game as India grabbed the scoring opportunity with both hands as Sardar Singh played a move from the left by-line. He gave a pass to Ramandeep, who did not make a mistake.
The last few seconds saw both teams trying to penetrate in the circle but were unable to find the winner, taking the game to the shoot-out where India prevailed.
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Akashdeep Singh (third minute) and Harmnanpreet Singh (50th) scored for 2014 edition champions India, while Muhammad Atiq (52nd minute) scored for Pakistan, who had finished runners-up in the previous edition.
India shook off the disappointment of losing to Malaysia in the semi-finals as they got off to a flying start, with Akashdeep giving them an early lead. Lalit Upadhyay ran to the left byline before cutting it back to an unmarked Akashdeep, who put the ball in the net with a quick slap.
India built on the momentum as they made two more field goals attempts through Chinglensana Singh in the sixth minute and Mandeep Singh in the 14th minute but the Pakistan defence was alert to avoid a further lead.
The second quarter though saw Pakistan up their game and came up with strong attacking display as forwards Ajaz Ahmad, Muhammad Dilber and Abu Mahmood tested the Indian defence as they took powerful shots on goal.
They made plenty of chances in the circle and also earned the first penalty corner in the 21st minute but was well saved by India. Pakistan earned two more penalty corners in the same minute but were unsuccessful.
In the 27th minute, India strikers S.V. Sunil and Akashdeep took turns in attempting shots on goal with good stick work inside the circle but unfortunately could not convert. Akashdeep and Sardar Singh combined well for the former to cross at the right post but a diving Sunil cound’t control the ball.
The third quarter too saw Pakistan make two strong attempts on goal. First it was Ajaz Ahmad in the 34th minute but he missed the post by a small margin while in the 38th minute an Indian infringement saw Pakistan earn another penalty corner. The drag-flick, though, by the experienced Muhammad Irfan was very well-saved by runner Manpreet Singh.
Ahead only by a goal, it was a tense final quarter for India and they needed to up their attack to ensure they finished well.
Good stick work by Mandeep Singh in the circle saw him win India’s first penalty corner in the 50th minute. And young Harmanpreet made no mistake in putting the ball past Pakistani goalkeeper at the right post to give India a 2-0 lead.
Pakistan pulled one back within a minute as a counter-attack saw an unmarked Atiq receiving a fine cross from the right before sweeping it past a diving goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh.
India quickly earned a penalty corner, thanks to Mandeep Singh but Rupinder Pal Singh’s drag-flick was off target.
Though in the dying minutes of the match Pakistan kept the ball possession for longer spell, India did everything they could to defend the lead and win.
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Defender Rupinder Pal Singh (17th, 27th minutes) slammed home two penalty corners in the second quarter before S.V. Sunil (48th) and Talwinder Singh (60th) scored field goals in the last period to add gloss to India’s win.
India had finished runners-up in last year’s edition when they had lost 0-4 to Australia in the final.
India made a dominating start, creating plenty of opportunities in the first quarter putting New Zealand on the backfoot.
Only a minute into the game, India earned their first penalty corner when Sunil found Kane Russell’s foot in the penalty circle. Harmanpreet Singh’s flick hit New Zealand’s first rusher giving India another opportunity at a penalty corner. The Kiwi defence, however, denied India an early lead.
Another chance was lost when an impulsive Mandeep Singh on the counter-attack raced into the striking circle and took a shot on goal but was thwarted by an alert Richard Joyce in the New Zealand goal.
With three minutes to go for the first hooter, Manpreet Singh set-up a perfect shot on goal with Mandeep perfectly poised to take the attempt but unfortunately the youngster couldn’t get a deflection.
In the second quarter, Akashdeep Singh was quick to win India their third penalty corner with some good dribbling skills in the circle.
Rupinder ensured this chance didn’t go begging with a well-timed flick sending it low on the right to beat Joyce and hand the lead to India.
India kept the Malaysian spectators entertained with a thrilling charge made by Mandeep Singh who raced into the striking circle only to assist Akashdeep with a square pass. Though they couldn’t convert a field goal, the attempt helped India win their fourth penalty corner.
Joyce made a good attempt to save Rupinder’s flick but the umpire awarded India another penalty corner due to dangerous play. This time Rupinder used a similar tactic of sending the ball low on the right that worked like magic, beating Joyce yet again.
This was Rupinder’s third goal in the tournament.
New Zealand made desperate attempts at coming back into the game in the third quarter. But India continued to impress with their attack, trying to find space for a third goal.
The defenders too put up a spirited performance to ensure India held on to the lead.
India scored their third goal when Mandeep tackled two New Zealand defenders at the baseline to set up Sunil with a brilliant square pass. Sunil was impressive as he beat defender Cory Bennett to score a sensational goal.
A video referral was upheld in favour of New Zealand when Affan Yousuf assisted skipper Manpreet who took a successful shot on goal in the dying minutes. But since it came off the back of the stick, the goal was denied.
But Manpreet was involved in winning India their fourth goal when he made a baseline pass to Talwinder who was spot on with his attempt.
India look to emulate 2001 heroics in Hockey Junior World Cup final
Lucknow, 17 Dec 2016 : Home favourites India will hope to clinch their second Hockey Junior World Cup title when they face maiden finalists Belgium in the final at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here on Sunday.
India’s only title in the Under-21 showpiece came in 2001 and after a gap of 15 years, the Harendra Singh-coached side will look to emulate what Rajinder Singh’s boys did in Hobart, Australia.
It will be India’s third appearance in the final in the tournament. They had finished runners-up in 1997.
Apart from the home factor, the impressive performance of the Harjeet Singh-led side has triggered a wave of expectations. And it is this factor that the Indians need to be wary of when they take the field on Sunday.
They need to continue to do what coach Harendra calls “simple hockey”, due to which the hosts topped their pool comprising England, South Africa and Canada before overcoming Spain and Australia in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.
They have also shown a lot of character in these matches and to grind out wins against Spain and Australia despite conceding a goal in each match early, speaks volumes of the team’s unity and work ethic that helped them to bounce back.
For India, drag-flick exponents Harmanpreet Singh (three goals) and Varun Kumar (two goals) will be tasked to convert the crucial penalty corners. The two have been blamed for their poor conversion rate and they need to mix power with accuracy and tactics to be successful against the Belgians. The duo has also performed well as defenders, along with vice-captain Dipsan Tirkey.
In the midfield, captain Harjeet Singh will dictate the tempo of play and he will need help from Nilakanta Sharma, Santa Singh, Manpreet and Sumit. Against an opponent like Belgium, who are known for their aggressive build-up play and high pressing, Harjeet and Co need to step up.
Indian attackers, led by Mandeep Singh (three goals), will not only have the duty of finding goals but also penalty corners. Armaan Qureshi, Gurjant Singh and Parvinder Singh have their task cut out against the tough-tackling Belgian defenders.
Belgium, who had not reached even the semi-finals before this edition, have improved a lot over the past few years. Their senior team claimed the silver medal at the Rio Olympics in August and the U-21 members will be eager to prove that they have the talent to extend their success as a hockey nation this year.
Their academy-based way of churning out talent helps them play as a group. This time, they will be out to show the world that Belgium have truly arrived, overcoming their mid-ranked team status.
Meanwhile in the play-off for the bronze medal, record champions Germany will face Australia. Germany, the two-time defending champions, lost to Belgium via penalty shoot-out 3-4.
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