HWL Finals: India edges Germany to bronze medal

India held on to a narrow 2-1 lead to defeat Germany and clinch the bronze medal in the third place play-off at the Hockey World League Finals on Sunday.

The Indian hockey team poses with its Hockey World League Finals bronze medal after defeating Germany 2-1 on Sunday.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Sports is said to build character but, more importantly, reveal it when it matters most. On those grounds, the German side would be proud of its performance despite faltering to a 2-1 defeat as host India salvaged pride by winning its second successive bronze medal at the Hockey World League Final in front of a packed Kalinga Stadium here on Sunday.

Consider this: Germany was playing its second high-intensity game in as many days, with less than 20 hours in-between, after a draining semifinal against world champion Australia. It had just 11 players available, its second goalkeeper Mark Appel was playing as a centre forward instead for the first time ever in his career – and he scored the team's lone goal. Stand-in captain Mats Grambusch took to the field despite suffering from fever, same as the other six rendered out of action.

And yet, it had as much possession as India, managed 13 shots at the goal against India's 12, earned seven penalty corners and kept running circles around the host.

AS IT HAPPENED

It looked like India and not Germany were short of legs. The latter had a clear plan and stuck to it. The defensive zoning worked perfectly. The players knew a ball would always travel faster than man and so used minimum but accurate passes, ran less but with more direction and yet were precise and quick enough with their overlapping to always have someone to receive the passes.

It was all level in the first two quarters. India went for the lead and fashioned a series of attacks but they all fizzled out against a

stout German defence. Gurjant Singh's shot in the 12th minute went straight to goalkeeper Tobias Walter. As did shots from SV Sunil and Akashdeep Singh. Mandeep Singh was nowhere to be seen. Sunil did manage to finally break the deadlock in the 21st minute, shooting in a rebound after Walter padded off Akashdeep's shot, but for a team fresh off a rest day, that was little to be relieved.

India, on the other hand, appeared uncertain. It was surprising, given that the team knew the opposition would be tiring as the match wore on, but India appeared more under pressure in the first half. Germany had more shots on goal, six PCs and almost equal possession. The second half saw the Germans pegged back, as expected, but they continued their dogged defence as India failed to find a way past. A long pass from Grambusch form outside the dotted circle on the right found Appel unmarked at the far post, who just swung his stick at it and scored in the 36th minute.

India earned its first PC in the 41st minute and then got three more, finally scoring off the last to go ahead. There even was a miscommunication during one where no one knew who would inject the ball. It kept attacking against a team running on fumes but there was no way Germany was going to go down without a fight. And it didn't.

India might have won the game but it was Germany that walked off to the loudest applause from the crowd.

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