Buenos Aires: Experienced goalkeeper PR Sreejesh held the fort in the shootout while Harmanpreet Singh starred in India’s 3-2 win with a double (21′ and 60′) in the FIH Hockey Pro League encounter against Argentina on Saturday.
A penalty corner earned by India skipper Manpreet Singh with just 25 seconds left for the final hooter changed the course of a tense battle against the Olympic Champions Argentina who were poised for victory with a 2-1 lead.
Harmanpreet scored his double in the 60th minute with an electrifying drag-flick that fetched India a 2-2 equaliser pushing the match into a penalty shootout. It was India’s Lalit Upadhyay, Rupinder Pal Singh and Dilpreet Singh who scored in the penalty shootout while India’s experienced custodian PR Sreejesh came up with impressive saves to fetch India a bonus point.
Earlier in the contest, it was India who drew the first blood after a stalemate first quarter with a penalty corner in the 21st minute. India vice-captain Harmanpreet picked up a fine injection to fiercely strike the ball to the left of the Argentine goalkeeper fetching India a much-needed 1-0 lead.
Argentina bounced back as they put Indian defence under real pressure with potential circle penetrations in the following minutes. Their efforts paid off with India conceding a penalty corner in the 28th minute. Home team’s Martin Ferreiro was impeccable in his execution to score an equaliser. He was also responsible for Argentina’s second goal through yet another penalty corner in the 30th minute, ending the second quarter with a comfortable 2-1 lead.
At half-time, stats projected Argentina’s dominance as they had better ball possession in comparison to India and also had 10 shots on goal while the visitors had made eight attempts on goal. The third quarter was goalless with both teams keeping the pressure up against each other and living up to the billing. Though both sides had traded penalty corners in this quarter, neither could muster a goal.
With the scoreboard reading 2-1 at the start of the deciding quarter, the contest went down to the wire with both teams stepping on the gas. Desperate for a win after losing to Germany in the double-header last week, the Olympic Champions Argentina were resolute in their efforts while India worked the yards vying for an elusive goal.
In the opening minute of the fourth quarter, Harmanpreet slapped the ball from the top of the circle towards the goal but Lalit Upadhyay could not get his stick on the ball for a deflection. Pressure mounted on India in the dying minutes of the match with two of their key players Varun Kumar and Mandeep Singh sitting out of the game with a yellow card. But skipper Manpreet Singh’s valiant effort in the final moments ensured a successful outing for the visitors.
“I think the biggest takeaway from this match is our fighting spirit. We didn’t lose hope until the last minute and we fought back really hard to earn this result,” stated an elated Harmanpreet whose equaliser set up an exciting shootout.
India will next face Argentina in the FIH Hockey Pro League match later on Sunday.