Perth, Oct 7 (IANS) The Indian junior team went down 4-3 via penalty shoot out to the Victoria Vikings in the semi-finals of the Australian Hockey League (AHL) here on Friday.
The Indian juniors had stormed back from a 3-0 deficit courtesy of a Varun Kumar hat-trick to take the game to the shootout after the teams were locked 3-3 at the end of regulation time.
The two teams were the ones with the strongest defences in the pool stages, the Indians conceding seven goals and Victoria nine. The first quarter was played out to their strengths, both teams organising themselves tightly in the defensive areas, and controlling and cancelling each others midfields.
Locked in a goalless stalemate after the first quarter, the Vikings were the ones to take the lead in the second session with Chris Ciriello converting a penalty corner in the 20th minute. Two minutes later Aaron Kleinschmidt took advantage of a goalmouth melee to double the lead.
India had a penalty corner in the second quarter, but Varun Kumar’s flick was smartly parried by Durst Johan in the Vikings goal. The chance gave the Indian juniors confidence, and they stormed back into the game, taking control and creating a lot of penetrations into the Victoria circle.
They lacked the final pass though as Victoria’s defence held firm to deny them an opening.
In the final minutes of the second quarter, Ciriello converted his second penalty corner of the game to give Victoria a 3-0 lead heading into halftime.
The Indians had several chances to pull a goal back in the third quarter, attacking and controlling the game in the midfield. A brilliant passing move at the top of the Victorian circle saw Ajit Pandey drag his shot high.
Minutes later Durst was in action again, Pulling off a smart save from Anand Lakra’s bursting run and shot from the top of the circle. Off the rebound, Durst smothered Parvinder Singh’s shot illegally. India had a penalty corner.
Victoria saved the first penalty corner but were penalised with another. Varun Kumar missed his drag flick but improvised with the loose ball to score and open India’s account in the game.
The teams went into the final break with the Indians trailing 3-1.
Simranjeet Singh’s green card early in the final quarter handed India a disadvantage, but it didn’t matter as they pushed forward in search of goals to get back in the game. Armaan Qureshi came closest picking up a pass from Dipsan Tirkey inside the circle and turning to shoot wide.
With six minutes of the game left, India won a penalty corner and this time Varun didn’t need a second invitation, dragging his shot perfectly into the bottom left corner, to reduce the margin to one goal.
With the momentum having shifted, India started pushing for the equaliser and won another penalty corner in the 56th minute. Varun made no mistake, slotting it into the bottom corner again to drag India level.
Victoria went a man down in the final minutes courtesy Tim Cross’s yellow card and the Indian juniors made the most of the numerical advantage, constantly attacking the Vikings circle. With a minute to go, Harjeet Singh had a shot from the top of the box, but Durst parried it.
It was to be the final bit of action as the two teams went into a shootout for a place in the finals.
In the shootout, the Vikings held strong missing a single chance of their five, and winning by the narrowest of margins to take their place in the finals.
India will be playing for the bronze medal on Sunday.