India wins against RSA; to face Spain in quarters

India defeated South Africa 2-1 to finish on top of Pool D at the Junior Hockey World Cup in Lucknow on Monday.

Indian captain Harjeet Singh is all set to score a goal against South Africa. India won 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Mandeep Singh scored the winner for India.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

The Indian team just about managed to edge past a gritty South Africa 2-1 and finish unbeaten atop Pool D in the Junior World Cup here on Monday.

In contrast to the structured performance in previous games, there appeared little planning and more random rushing ahead, spraying shots wide. That India still managed to come away with full points was more a credit to the opposition falling to relentless assault than any controlled attack. The result effectively ended South Africa's hopes of reaching the quarterfinals.

The first 10 minutes were impressive, though. India was aggressive, opening up the flanks well and advancing from all sides to push South Africa on the back-foot. It resulted in captain Harjeet Singh getting a reverse stick to shoot a rebound into the net after Manpreet's shot came off goalkeeper Siyavuya Nolutshungu's pads.

Thereafter, however, the South Africans stepped up the game as India went astray. Manager Roelant Oltmans admitted the energy levels dropped, coach Harendra Singh added that the team missed chances and Harjeet accepted that individual play crept into the team after the opening goal. The biggest concern for the team would be past errors coming in. Spain, in the quarterfinals, would be a tougher opponent.

The players admitted the team did not stick to its plan, and it was visible on field. Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar and Dispan Tirkey were solid enough in defence and, along with Vikas Dahiya, kept India in the game. Harmanpreet and Varun, in particular, were impressive with their long aerial passes that landed perfectly in the scoring zone, only for the forwards to mess up. Harjeet was committed in the middle but had little support from the rest. His pass to Mandeep inside the circle in the 55th minute was fluffed before the latter managed to regain control and strike on second attempt to finally get the winner.

Mis-trapping was rampant and the finishing coarse. Stopping during penalty corners was sloppy. Armaan Qureshi, Parvinder Singh, Mandeep Singh — despite his third Man of the Match award in as many games — all were guilty of holding on to the ball too long and losing possession. “Maybe somewhere everyone, including me, felt we had qualified and began trying fancy things,” a downcast Qureshi admitted.

South Africa, in contrast, kept its defensive structure intact while attempting to hit and run on counters and managed to score off its first penalty corner. “We stayed defensive and played a tactical, passing game, and it almost worked for us. You cannot give space to India if you have to restrict them,” a satisfied South African coach Garreth Ewing said.

The one positive for India from the game would be a disciplined display. There was not a single foul or card for the Indians through the 70 minutes, a huge improvement from the previous outings. The coaches would be hoping the team learns its lessons from Monday's game as well.

Earlier, Australia beat Austria 4-2 for its second win in as many games to top Pool A. Argentina drubbed Korea 5-1 to finish second in the pool, ahead of debutants Austria, on goal difference despite being tied on points. In Pool B, Netherlands thrashed Egypt 7-0 to round off its league engagements but still finished second, behind Belgium, which remained unbeaten with a 3-0 win against Malaysia.

The results:

Pool A: Australia 4 (Joshua Simmonds, Lachlan Sharp, Blake Govers, Jack Welch) bt Austria 2 (Phillip Schippan, Franz Lindengrun); Argentina 5 (Nicolas Keenan 2, Martin Ferreiro, Tomas Domene, Thomas Habif) bt Korea 1 (Joohan Park); Pool B: Netherlands 7 (Jip Janssen 2, Thijs van Dam, Bram van Groesen, Thierry Brinkman, Sebastian van der Graaf, Noud Schoenaker) bt Egypt 0; Belgium 3 (Gregory Stockbroekx, Quentin van Lierde, Thomas Verheijen) bt Malaysia 0; Pool D: India 2 (Harjeet Singh, Mandeep Singh) bt South Africa 1 (Kyle Lion-Cachet).