The stage was all set and the people all excited! But then came out the most uncertain guest! Rain! When it arrives, things worsen and so was the scenario in yesterday’s first semifinal of the Odisha Hockey World League Finals 2017, Bhubaneshwar when the hosts India faced world no.1 Argentina on a heavy turf in the Kalinga stadium that shall host next year’s World Cup. The Olympic champions defeated the Men in Blue 1-0 to enter their maiden Hockey World League final in what was not a great contest to watch, all credit to the rains!
The numbers just before the game began just boggled everyone’s minds when we realized that the average age of the Indian sticks is just 23.8 whereas that of the South Americans is 29! The Indian team had 8 players from the Junior team which has won the 2016 Junior World Cup and this just shows how young the rooster is whereas the visitors can boast of Vivaldi (38) in goal, Gilardi (35), the magician in the middle and Matias Paredes (35) who have experience of over 4 Olympic games!
With all the numbers supporting the visitors, the world number 6 still had a hope looking at the current form and the home conditions. But the rain just shattered it all at once.With the field all wet and slippery, both teams started off in a slow fashion with short passes and slower runs. This actually hurt the Indian team most, which has sprinting wingers as its best strength. The youngsters were stranded with the ball ending up in the troughs all the time. The game was on a very slow pace and no team really got through until the Argentines won a penalty corner with the ball striking Lakra’s foot in the circle when clocked ticked 17.
Gonzalo Peillat, the best penalty corner expert in the circuit currently made no mistake and handed his team a lead in the very first chance at goal! India tried its heart out to get possession, control the ball and create chances but then the circle entries were well stopped by the visitors’ experienced defence and most attacks just ended with the ball slipping off the wet sticks.
The Indians also grabbed some chances through penalty corners but Vivaldi stood strong against Rupinderpal’s flicks! The attacks continued until the end of the 3rd quarter but the Indians never looked like they were comfortable. But then, in the final 15mins, the young team looked in great control, dictating the tempo of the game, rotating the ball and moving off the ball. The Indian team had over 85% possession in the last period of play and restricted the visitors to just defending their goal except for a sole run in the final minute. They made repeated circle entries and tried creating chances but just couldn’t put the ball on the target. The numbers say it all that Indians just had one shot on target in all the 4 quarters which just shows how good the opposition defence was and how tough it was for the forwards to divert the ball in the right places on a wet pitch.
When the hooter sounded at the 60min mark, it was sheer disbelief for the Indians as their efforts just couldn’t convert into goals! But yes, the quality of game displayed by this young team in the fourth quarter was just a treat to the eyes and has definitely proved a point to all the teams across the globe that this team is going all guns with the Hockey World Cup at home as the sole aim in sight! The Manpreet Singh led team will face the loser of semifinal 2 (Australia vs Germany) tomorrow for the third place. The team will look to retain the Bronze they won 2yrs ago in Ranchi beating Netherlands in a shootout after a 5-5 thriller and end the tournament on a high to give the enthusiastic Bhubaneshwar crowd a deserving adieu.
Let us know how you feel about the spirited display of the young Indian Hockey team and wish them luck through the comments section below!