India hold nerves to pip SA

Familiar, late defensive woes nearly came to haunt India once again but the Men in Blue held on by the skin of their teeth to eke out a thrilling 6-5 win over South Africa in the first of two ‘Test’ matches at La Albericia, Santander, Spain on Sunday.

India started with their usual high tempo game, dominating play and possession before stroking ahead in the 13th minute, thanks to Shivendra Singh’s strike. 

The South Africans were soon back on level terms when India captain and goalkeeper Bharat Chetri was yellow-carded in the 17th minute for a dangerous challenge on Marvin Hooper. India had chosen to rest the second custodian PR Sreejesh and veteran defender Igance Tirkey was forced to man the post. Turkey, however, could not stop Austin Smith from scoring off the resultant penalty stroke.

India though did not allow the disappointment to get the better of them, going 3-1 up following inspired play from young Dharamvir Singh, who struck in the 19th and 21st minutes. 

Sparkling goal

India continued to call the shots post the break too with Tushar Khandkar making it 4-1 in the 36th minute before Shivendra Singh extended the lead with his second goal two minutes later.

With a hefty 5-1 lead, India switched to defensive play and the move completely backfired as South Africans made inroads after inroads. Tim Drummond (42nd) and Ian Haley (48th) reduced the margin to 3-5. 

India somewhat eased the pressure when VR Raghunath scored off a penalty corner in the 53rd minute to make it 6-3 but the gritty South Africans were not done yet. Justin Ried Ross hammered in from a penalty corner in the 67th minute while Smith notched up his brace two minutes later to leaved the match on tenterhooks. 

However, the Indians held firm in the dying moments to salvage a nervy win.

“We had about twenty minutes to go and stepped right back, and at this level that’s a mistake and they started to come back and some poor play resulted in us giving away a field goal and two corners in which they scored,” India coach Michael Nobbs said. 

“Although the scoreline looks close, the final goal they scored was in the last minute of a corner. We learnt quite a few things today as a result of this game that will help in the coming matches and at the Olympics,” the Australian added. 

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