Junior World Cup: India through to semis

India defeated Spain 2-1 to enter the semifinals of the Junior World Cup Hockey in Lucknow on Thursday.

India scored a come-from-behind victory over Spain in the quarterfinals of Junior Hockey World Cup.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Luck and pluck played equal roles as India managed to put down Spain 2-1 and book a spot in the semifinals of the Junior World Cup here on Thursday. This would be the first last-four outing for India since 2005, where it finished fourth. India's reward would be a match-up against Australia, who got past Netherlands by an identical margin, in less than 24 hours.

For a large part of the game, the Indians, cheered on by a capacity crowd at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, were erratic, aimless and frustrated by a defensive Spain that managed to shoot out for the occasional counter-attack before going back to protect its citadel. Those few forays into the attack were enough to disrupt the Indian defence.

A poor outing for captain Harjeet Singh did not help matters. Harjeet, who has been the team's key playmaker, couldn't stop the ball, mispassed and conceded turnovers. His best move came in the 63rd minute when he feinted a right, turned left and put the ball into the circle, earning a penalty corner that resulted in two more and the winning goal. But that was the only time.

Spain earned its only penalty corner in the 22nd minute and made it count to go ahead and silence the vociferous crowd. The setback saw India go desperate, lose its structure and try and attack all the time without bothering to build up. Not surprisingly, most of the attempts petered out in the face of one of the best defensive teams in world hockey.

India kept attacking and would boast of almost double circle penetrations and possession but it mattered little. A goal by Mandeep Singh in the 17th minute was disallowed for being dangerous and also affected the team that became too cautious of the umpire and lost control. But what would concern India the most is the continued poor form of Harmanpreet Singh, otherwise reliable player, during penalty corners.

India earned eight -- the first coming in the 3rd minute and the last in the 68th. Only two were converted, a couple of them not even stopped cleanly, but the two conversions were enough to ensure victory. The second of them was controversial, with the Spanish team management indicating as much without saying in as many words.

Dipsan Tirkey had a great game and was often the last man standing against Spain. The rest struggled, finding it hard to shake of their markers. There appeared little understanding as well-placed passes went waste. Spain also cut down space along both flanks, forcing India to try and switch them or go through the centre, but the forwards were often out of position and the final pass not accurate.

A word about Spanish captain Enrique Gonzalez, who almost single-handedly ripped apart the Indian structure, toying with the midfielders, opening up gaps in the defence and thwarting the attack. Gonzalez made the Indians look ordinary but lack of support from the rest of his team let him down.



BOX OF OTHER GAMES:

Defending champion Germany had a brief scare when, after leading 3-0 till the 65th minute against England, it conceded two goals in as many minutes as England reduced the margin and went all out to attack, taking off its goalkeeper as well.

Having controlled the proceedings for a large part of the game, sloppiness in the last few minutes saw German coach Valentin Altenburg yelling at his players before Timm Herzbruch added a final goal in the last few seconds to seal the issue.

“I think it's all about winning and we won, so yeah that's good. But I was very concerned when they scored those goals. I think somewhere in their minds they were already thinking of the semis and they relaxed and I am not happy about it. There will be a lot to be said to the boys but that will be in the dressing room,” Altenburg admitted.

His team would now take on Belgium after the latter managed to not just level scores with one minute to go but also edged past Argentina 4-1 in the shootout. The South American champion's defence held firm all through, getting the lone goal in the 44th minute through captain Maico Casella before his Belgian counterpart Victor Wegnez finally managed to find a gap.

Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Bosso saved umpteen penalty corners and a penalty stroke before losing momentum in the shootouts. “It was just bad luck, what can I say. I love being in shootouts, I have saved so many of them but today it all just went wrong,” was all a disappointed Bosso could say after the game.

Australia managed to thwart a desperate and attacking Netherlands to register a hard-fought 2-1 victory to reach the last-four. Kiran Arunasalam's one-touch deflection put the Ocenia champion ahead, who dominated the first half. The Europeans stepped on the gas post break and pushed Australia back but despite repeated attempts, could not add to its tally after Jip Janssen's penalty corner conversion.

The results (quarterfinals): Belgium 1 (Victor Wegnez) bt Argentina 1 (Maico Casella) on penalties (4-1 SO); Germany 4 (Jan Schiffer, Lukas Windefeder, Florian Scholten, Timm Herzbruch) bt England 2 (Edward Horler 2); Australia (Kiran Arunasalam, Jack Welch) bt Netherlands (Jip Janssen); India 2 (Simranjeet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh) bt Spain 1 (Marc Serrahima).

Friday's schedule: 15/16 playoff: Egypt vs Canada (11.15 am); 13/14: Japan vs Korea (1.30 pm); Semifinals: Belgium vs Germany (3.45 pm), India vs Australia (6 pm).