HWL Finals: India goes down 1-0 to Argentina in semifinal

A 17th minute goal from Gonzalo Peillat sealed the tie as India went down fighting 1-0 to Argentina in the semifinal of the Hockey World League Finals on Friday.

Action from the semifinal clash between India and Argentina at Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

It took half the team to come up and force Manpreet Singh off the pitch. The Indian captain was not so much desolate or crying as stunned into stupor after the host lost 1-0 to Olympic champion Argentina in a rain-soaked, bone-chilling first semifinal of the Hockey World League Finals here on Friday. He didn't turn for the post-match press briefing either, for the first time through the tournament, sending deputy Chingelnsana Singh instead.

It was a match that, under normal circumstances, could have been a great advertisement for hockey. As it happened, the conditions forced it to stay strictly average, a lone penalty corner from Gonzalo Peillat in the 17th minute being the difference between the two sides.

What it did do, however, was anoint Bhubaneswar the undisputed capital of hockey lovers in the country as the people, all holding umbrellas in the downpour with accompanying, freezing winds, not just packed the stands but cheered the team all the way till the end and even stayed to applaud both teams after.

AS IT HAPPENED

On the field, both teams struggled to come to terms with the water-logged turf and the difficulty of sighting the ball every time it was dragged and pushed off accompanied by a spray. India struggled more, depending as it does so much on counter-attacks and the pace of its players, but it wasn't easy for the World No. 1 side either. The teams started cautiously, making occasional forays by poking into the other half but largely stayed put in their own.

The teams switched tactics and played a lot more lifted passes and aerial balls to make the ball travel but the Argentines were better at it. India coach Sjoerd Marijne explained later that the opposition, once it got the goal, stayed so far back in the defence all the time
that it made playing long overheads difficult. “Had we stayed back in our defence, they too would have struggled. But we wanted to play a high-press game because that's what we do and because we wanted to score,” he said.

The heavy turf took a toll on the body and prevented the ball from travelling far. Short passes in small, closed sections of the field were used to rotate the ball and keep possession but it wasn't easy given India's struggles in trapping the ball. Still, there were chances when India could have got the equaliser but the ball seemed to simply slip off the sticks. The second quarter was the big difference and ultimately proved crucial. Argentina won its only PC of the game and Peillat struck high into the net on the right. It was also a period of 15 minutes when India did not manage a single opposition circle entry.

The fourth quarter was the opposite. With 80 percent possession, seven attempts and absolute domination, India threw everything it had at the opposition but defence has always been Argentina's strength.

READ: Argentina complains of scheduling, India coach Marijne brushes it off as circumstantial

Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Gurjant Singh, S. V. Sunil every one of them took a shot but were parried. Successive PCs in the 36th minute was all India had managed but couldn't convert as Argentina put its back into defending its one-goal lead. It was all it needed to halt the host at the same stage for the second time in as many editions, awaiting the winner of the other semifinal between Australia and Germany to know its bronze-medal opponent.

Earlier Mirco Pruijser struck the lone goal in a slow game that had just a handful of shots at either ends as Netherlands won 1-0 against England in the play-off for seventh spot.

The results: Semifinal: Argentina 1 (Gonzalo Peillat) bt India 0; 7-8 place: Netherlands 1 (Mirco Pruijser) bt England 0.


 

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