India enters Junior Hockey World Cup final

India came back from a goal down to defeat Australia in a shootout to enter the final of the men's Junior Hockey World Cup.

India will now take on Belgium in the final.   -  PTI

Stepping up when it mattered the most, Indian juniors dished out their best performance of the tournament so far, storming into the final of the Junior Hockey World Cup here on Friday with a 6-2 victory over former champion Australia, edging ahead on the penalties after the teams were tied 2-2 in regulation time. This is India’s third final in the tournament. It finished runner-up in 1997 and won the title in 2001.

Indian now takes on Belgium after the latter upset defending champion Germany 4-3 on penalties after being tied goalless in regulation time. This is Belgium’s first-ever final in the competition. Interestingly, India had lost to Australia in the semifinals of the tournament in 2005.

While the scoreline may indicate it was a close game, the Indians had the upper hand for almost 50 of the 70 minutes of the game and were deserved winners against an Australia side which was more defensive than usual and struggled for spaces upfront. Unlike against Spain where India struggled and lost structure after conceding, the team remained in control in the semifinals and ensured there was no desperation.

The few occasions that Australia stepped out, however, it appeared dangerous, but could not make much inroads into the Indian defence that held firm with Dipsan Tirkey standing out with his tackling and snatching possession.

Goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya, hardly tested so far in the tournament, had a busy day and proved his worth, thwarting five of the seven penalty corners Australia received, besides saving a couple of close shots from Jack Welch and Joshua Beltz.

India began well, as usual, and attacked early but soon fell back as the teams preferred to size up the opposition before trying anything. Australia first entered the Indian circle in the 10th minute and three minutes later, got its first penalty corner, converted on the third rebound by Tom Craig. The host was far more attacking, but was unable to make its chances count, trailing by the lone goal at break. An overhead lob by Sumit was hit wide by Simranjit Singh inches from the goal and a Vikramjit Singh shot was padded away by goalkeeper Ashleigh Thomas, who also saved a couple of penalty corners.

But every aspect of India’s game was far improved than the previous outings. Harjeet was back in his element, distributing balls all around and finding gaps. Simranjit Singh missed an easy scoring chance, but more than made up for it with impeccable passing, stealing the ball at the half line and dodging past hapless Australian defenders. One of the those runs found Gurjant Singh, who was spot on with his trapping, and the latter shot in from an acute angle to get the equaliser.

Six minutes later, Frazer Gerrard’s shot was intercepted at the top of the circle by Mandeep — blocking the first pass, which Roelant Oltmans calls ‘outletting’ — who then played a 1-2 with Nilakanta Sharma to get the lead before a lucky deflection from Lachlan Sharp helped Australia level again. In the shootout, it was India all the way. The team scored from all its four attempts while Australia managed only two.

Earlier, Germany did everything right except score and paid the price for the number of scoring chances it missed, specially in the second half. While Belgium attempted a few shots early on, it preferred to sit back and defend even as an attacking, aggressive Germany stitched up moves from all sides. None of the shots went in, however, as Belgian goalkeeper Loic van Doren stood firm, saving and deflecting everything. The last 25 minutes saw the game being played completely in Belgian half, but Germany could not find the elusive goal.

The results: Semifinals: Belgium 0 beat Germany 0 on penalties (4-3 in shoot out); India 2 (Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh) beat Australia 2 (Lachlan Sharp, Tom Craig) on penalties (4-2 SO).

15/16 place: Egypt 2 (Mohamed Gadelkarim, Ahmed Elganaini) beat Canada 1 (Rohan Chopra); 13/14 place: Japan 2 (Kota Watanabe, Koji Yamasaki) beat Korea 2 (Seyong Oh).

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