Half-chances matter a lot when playing against top teams in the world. On Monday, India had more than a few of these but failed to convert them, going down 3-1 against Netherlands in its last league match of Pool B at the Hockey World League Finals here.
It was an impressive, all-round performance from the World No. 2 side that finished on top of the table, undefeated and with seven points from three games. India, on the other hand, performed in bursts, brilliant one moment and lacklustre the next. It finished the league engagements with a single point to end fourth.
It was an open game with both sides starting cautiously, attempting only an occasional foray into the opposition half. The Dutch had hoped for a controlled, defensive India; coach Roelant Oltmans had asked his team to attack. The match saw the host being both, and the momentum change often. When India attacked relentlessly, the Dutch struggled. When it fell back to defend, The Oranje took control. Two of the three goals scored were due to defensive lapses.
India had the first shot at goal in the ninth minute when a brilliant dodge by Danish Mujtaba inside the circle to put Akashdeep Singh was missed. That move was initiated by Manpreet Singh and the youngster, along with Sardar Singh, kept pumping balls up front all through the game. Birendra Lakra was brilliant — changing flanks, falling back to defend and moving up to attack — but the lack of an effective poacher affected the team, with eight shots at the goal compared to 15 by the Dutch.
Often, entering the kill zone is confused with an effective attack. That the number of circle penetrations for both teams on Monday was almost same – 18 Dutch to 17 Indian – despite the result, clearly one-sided possession and shots at target dispelled the myth.
Two minutes after that first move, Sardar Singh put through Dharamvir Singh on the right, who sent in a perfectly-placed cross into the circle only for Ramandeep Singh to take the weakest of shots and waste the chance. The left flank remained underutilised and would be a concern for Oltmans.
The Dutch, switching from man-to-man marking to zonal style frequently, picked up the pace in the third quarter to go ahead 2-0. Mink van der Weerden converted a penalty corner in the 36th minute to open the scoring. Seven minutes later, he dodged past Mujtaba and shot the ball in and while the entire Indian defence was watching Constantijn Jonker at the near post, the ball went past to Mirco Pruijser behind and scooped into the net.
SV Sunil manufactured a penalty corner breaking past three defenders in the final quarter and Chinglensana Singh struck in a rebound to reduce margin but a rare goalkeeping error from PR Sreejesh let in the third Dutch goal. India now await for the final Pool A matches on Tuesday to know its quarterfinals opponent. In the other Pool B match, it was a battle of attrition among two teams with strong defence as Argentina emerged victorious over Germany. Gonzalo Peillat retaining his scoring record with two strikes in a 3-1 victory over the Olympic champion to finish second in the Pool.
The results: Pool B: Netherlands 3 (Mink van der Weerden, Mirco Pruijser, Roel Bovendeert) bt India 1 (Chinglensana Singh); Argentina 2 (Gonzalo Peillat 2, Matias Parades) bt Germany 1 (Niklas Wellen).
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