Gritty India colts storm into semifinals

Hockey Junior World Cup: Harmanpreet slams late winner against Spain, hosts to meet Aussies today

Gritty India colts storm into semifinals
It took them an eternity to leave the field, dejected as they were after their best performance in the tournament so far. Spain’s pain was in stark contrast to the celebration in the Indian ranks. The hosts, trailing for a long period, had found an escape route, posting a 2-1 win to enter the semifinal of the Hockey Junior World Cup on Thursday.

Marc Seerahima gave Spain the lead, getting a faint touch on a goal-bound drag-flick from Pol Parrilla in the 22nd minute, but goals from Simranjeet Singh (57th minute) and Harmanpreet Singh (66th minute) helped India eke out a win and book their place in the semifinals after 11 years. They last reached the semis at the 2005 edition in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

India will play Australia, who beat European U-21 champions the Netherlands 2-1 in another last-eight clash, for a place in the Sunday’s final.

They were fearless, flawless and a team with a perfect plan. And in the initial 20 minutes India were dancing to Spain’s tunes. Defending in numbers, the Spaniards frustrated the Indians in the initial exchanges. And when they snatched the ball, their game closely resembled that of the Spanish football team.

They relied on their crisp pass-and-move game to put the Indians off guard. Joan Tarres and Ignacio Rodriguez used the width of the pitch to pull the Indian defenders wide while their skipper Enrique Gonzales worked his magic through the middle. The nippy striker glided past his markers without any trouble, at times teasing them with his swift stick work.

Restricted to chasing the ball for the major portion of the opening half, the Indians were forced into committing errors. And one such error resulted in a penalty corner for Spain, something that they gladly accepted to slot in the opener.

However by the second half, the Indians managed to find their feet. Harmanpreet was the star as the Rio Olympian used his experience to keep Gonzales quiet and also help build play from the back.

The 20-year-old was the architect behind India’s attacks, using his vision to the fullest. Though his team-mates didn’t score from the opportunities created by Harmanpreet, they were successful in gaining penalty corners – nine to be precise -- whenever they threatened to score. And it was no surprise when they scored from two of those attempts -- Simranjeet netting the equaliser and Harmanpreet netting the winning goal four minutes from time.

They might have got past Spain with a wobbly show, but if India are to beat Australia on Friday, they will have to put up a much better show against a team that has looked unstoppable in the tournament so far.

Earlier in the day, Belgium beat Argentina in an enthralling shootout to book their place in the semifinals. They will face defending champions Germany, who registered a comfortable 4-2 win over England.

Results: Quarterfinals: Belgium: 1 (Victor Wegnez 69th) bt Argentina: 1 (Maico Casella 44th) 4-1 via shootout; Germany: 4 ( Jan Schiffer 22nd, Lukas Windfeder 31st, Florian Scholten 52nd, Timm Herzbruch 70th) bt England: 2 (Edward Horler 65th, 66th); Australia: 2 (Kiran Arunasalam 18th, Jack Welch 58th) bt Netherlands: 1 (Jip Janssen 47th); India: 2 (Simranjeet Singh 57th, Harmanpreet Singh 66th) bt Spain: 1 (Marc Seerahima 22nd).

On Friday: Semifinals: Belgium vs Germany (3:45 PM); India vs Australia (6:00 pm).

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