Argentina halt Indian run

Argentina halt Indian run

A resurgent Argentina prevailed over a battling India 1-0 in near-unplayable conditions to march into the final of the Hockey World League Final here on Friday.

A deep depression in the Bay of Bengal resulted in heavy rain lashing the Kalinga Stadium from the afternoon, causing puddles in many parts of the pitch. Despite the international hockey federation (FIH) chose to continue with the semifinal affair.

The blinding rain meant both the teams struggled to play their natural counter-attacking game although India found the conditions more difficult to cope with. The heavy pitch prevented them from employing the one-touch quick-passing game while the midfielders and strikers struggled to make their darting runs.

Despite the rain and chilly wind, the Indians tried hard to make a game out of it but their efforts bore no fruit. The passes weren't coming through as the ball kept stopping, eventually leaving them a frustrated bunch in the opening two quarters.

The Argentines, who have a vast majority of their players competing in Europe regularly where such rain and wind aren't unusual, adjusted to the conditions better. They attacked together in a bunch and stationed three players at the back in case they slipped. As such the opening half was almost equally fought as both teams shared possession although Argentina had the better of the chances.

The Los Leones then earned a penalty corner - the only one for them - in the 17th which eventually turned out to be the difference-maker in a hard-fought encounter. Ace drag-flicker Gonzalo Peillat, despite the heavy turf conditions, thundered home an unstoppable shot past stunned goalkeeper Akash Chikte.

India were set back further when they lost skipper and ace playmaker Manpreet Singh midway through the second quarter for a sliding tackle on Lucas Vila. Manpreet won the ball cleanly but the momentum took out Vila and the umpire immediately flashed the yellow card.

Like they did against England and Germany, the Indians came out an energised lot in the second half but Argentina held firm through some good defending. They hardly allowed India to make many circle penetrations, often cutting them off by the 25-yard line.

India, however, refused to cave in and came out firing all cylinders in the final quarter. They passed with a lot more intent and kept pushing Argentina deeper and deeper into their own half. They created three fantastic chances in a space of two pulsating minutes but all of them went abegging.

First Akashdeep Singh whipped in a good cross but goalkeeper Juan Vivaldi produced a diving effort to palm the ball away from a waiting Mandeep Singh. Then Gurjant was fed a brilliant ball and the striker, with all the time and space in the world, fired it over the bar. India made another fast-paced raid at the Argentina goal but the defenders, despite being totally out of breath, thwarted it gutsily.

India held 81 percent possession at that stage and even more as the game neared the end. They even substituted the goalkeeper with a midfielder but none of them could find the net. Argentina's Matias Peredes, with an open goal at his mercy, inexplicably missed with 90 seconds to go, giving India some hope. But it wasn't to be as their dreams got washed away in the pouring rain.

Result: Argentina: 1 (Gonzalo Peillat 17th) bt India: 0.

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