As the teams lined up for the national anthems, forward Mandeep Singh received a loud ovation from the Rourkela faithful here on Saturday at the Birsa Munda International Stadium on the landmark of his 200 th game in national colours. But it was another young Indian forward, Abhishek, who produced moments of brilliance to lead India to a 5-2 win over South Africa in the World Cup classification match.
The 23-year-old picked up from where he left off the other night and enthralled the crowd with his close control, dribbling and electric runs. He opened the scoring for India and set up another as the host finished joint-ninth with Argentina, which beat Wales 6-0, in what was an otherwise disappointing campaign.
It wasn’t the commanding performance that Graham Reid would have hoped for after the early goal which came in the fourth minute. Abhishek did well to trap a ball from Harmanpreet Singh, spun away from his marker to make himself room and fired his shot into the right corner. Harmanpreet converted from his first drag-flick to double the lead in the opening quarter.
After the early goals, the South Africans quietened the crowd by growing into the game with possession, denying space inside their circle and ‘keeper Gowan Jones pushing away any half chances that came his way.
India needed Abhishek to create something out of nothing again. While he was denied earlier by Jones, he collected a long ball on the right and evaded his marker with his dribbling to set up Shamsher Singh for a simple finish.
Akashdeep Singh scored his third goal of the tournament when he poked from close range after Raj Kumar Pal and Jarmanpreet Singh combined well on the right side and India added a fifth after Sukhjeet Singh pushed home on the slide from a rebound. South Africa, who finished 11 th alongside Wales, pulled a couple of goals back through Samkelo Mvimbi and Mustaphaa Cassiem.
Earlier in the day, Malaysia bounced back with a win over Japan and France beat Chile.
South Africa (Samkelo Mvimbi 48’, Mustaphaa Cassiem 59’) 2-5 India (Abhishek 4’, Harmanpreet Singh 11’, Shamsher Singh 44’, Akashdeep Singh 48’, Sukhjeet Singh 58’); Argentina 6-0 Wales, Malaysia 3-2 Japan, Chile 2-4 France