Bronze delight for Indians

Hockey World League Final : Determined hosts pip Netherlands to clinch first global medal in 33 years

Bronze delight for Indians

 They say the next best thing to do after bowing out in the semifinal of a tournament is to win the third place tie. And the Indian hockey team did exactly the same as they beat the Netherlands 3-2 (fulltime 5-5) via tie-breaker in an exciting bronze medal tie at the Hockey World League Final here on Sunday.

The Indians trailed the European champions by two goals for more than half the game, but showed immense determination to rally and take a 3-2 lead in the 51st minute. But the Indians couldn’t see off the game as the Dutch dismantled their weak defence to push the game into a tie-breaker after six goals were scored in the final nine minutes.

In the tie-breaker too, the Indians found themselves on the back foot straight away. Danish Mujtaba’s successful attempt was overturned by video umpire Andy Mair for stick obstruction after Billy Bakker had given the Dutch an early lead.

However, the plot still had a few more twists and turns before the medals could be handed over to the eventual winners.

Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was the first to take the centre-stage as he showed quick feet to deny Jeroen Hertzberger and later displayed good composure to see off the Mirco Pruijser attempt.

While Amir Khan too missed his chance, India’s second, Birendra Lakra ensured that there were no hiccups as he hoodwinked the Dutch shot-stopper Pirmin Blaak to bring India back on level terms.

And with Seve van Ass and Sardar Singh converting their respective attempts, and Manpreet Singh pulling a penalty stroke for obstruction from India’s final attempt, it was Rupinder Pal Singh who stepped up to take the decisive strike.

The 25-year-old defender didn’t disappoint as he calmly slotted in his second stroke of the night as India ended their 33-year-old wait for a medal at a major global event with a thrilling win. The Indians had last won a bronze medal at the 1982 Champions Trophy in Amstelveen, Netherlands.

Earlier in the day, a resolute Dutch side didn’t take much time to exploit the chinks in the Indian armour as Pruijser scored off a rebound in the ninth minute.

In the second quarter, Niek van der Schoot doubled their advantage with a quality strike from the right. A quick van der Schoot made sure that he was on the other end of a van Ass cross as he got past his marker and sent in a ferocious hit that beat the ’keeper to find the top right corner of the goal.

Leading by two goals since the second quarter, the Indians punished the Dutch for some sloppy defending as an unmarked Ramandeep Singh slotted in India’s first in the 31st minute, while Rupinder drew parity for the hosts through a short corner in the 47th minute.

Though Ramandeep gave India the lead in the 51st minute. The Netherlands then equalised through van Der Weerden but in the next minute, India earned a penalty stroke after Rupinder’s flick from their fifth penalty corner hit the foot of the last defender and the drag-flicker made no mistake to make it 4-3. Akashdeep then got slightest of deflection as India enjoyed a 5-3 advantage.

But some sloppy defending from the Indians and tremendous fighting spirit from the Netherlands took the match into shoot-out as Van der Weerden struck twice in the last two minutes of the match, with the equaliser coming in the final seconds through a penalty corner.

The Indians were not to be denied though, on a wonderful night.

Result: Bronze medal game: India: 5 (Ramandeep Singh 39th, 51st, Rupinder Pal Singh 47th, 55th, Akashdeep Singh 56th) bt Netherlands: 5 (Mirco Pruijser 9th, Niek van der Schoot 25th, Constantijin Jonker 56th, Mink van der Weerden 58th, 60th) 3-2 via tie-breaker.

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