Hockey Pro League: India score late equaliser but lose shoot-out to Argentina

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India fought back strongly from a goal deficit to draw Argentina 2-2 but went down 1-3 in the shoot-out to concede a bonus point to the Rio Olympic gold medallists in the FIH Hockey Pro League here on Saturday.

After an even contest in the first half in which Argentina enjoyed more ball possession but India created more and better chances, the match exploded into action in the third quarter when India scored through Gurjant Singh in the 38th minute. Argentina responded soon and not only levelled the score through Nicolas Acosta in the 45th minute.

The South Americans, who are in the sixth position in the league table from three wins in four matches, went ahead when Nicolas Keenan brilliantly deflected Nicolas della Torre’s low drag flick past Krishan Pathak in the Indian goal.

Just when it looked like India will succumb to their second successive defeat in regulation time in Pro League since the 2020 edition, striker Mandeep Singh levelled the scores when he deflected in a rebound off a save by Argentina goalkeeper Tomas Santiago to make it 2-2 just before the long hooter.

However, things went haywire for Graham Reid’s team as Abhishek, Gurjant Singh and Sukhjeet Singh failed to score in the shoot-out after Harmanpreet Singh had cancelled out Nicolas Keenan’s successful attempt. For Argentina Tomas Domene and Lucas Toscani converted their attempts and though PR Sreejesh pulled off a superb save off Martin Ferreiro, Sukhjeet shot wide off the fourth attempt in the shoot-out and the hosts succumbed to a 1-3 defeat.

Earlier, Argentina dominated possession in the opening half. Los Leones, who play a defensive game and often concede possession, preferring to score on a swift counter, got off to a better start and put India under a lot of pressure in the opening quarter.

Martin Ferreiro came the closest to opening the scoring but his sharply taken shot was well saved by Krishan Pathak in the India goal.

The second quarter saw India move into a higher gear and create some chances, including four penalty corner attempts. However, with Harmanpreet, who is on 98 goals and seeking to reach a century, was unable to turn India’s first three penalty corners into goals. Jugraj took the fourth PC but his shot scuffed the surface and was cleared easily.

PR Sreejesh replaced Pathak in India’s goal and was quickly called into action when he smartly cleared the ball after Harmanpreet was dispossessed in his defensive quarter.

Both teams got a little jittery at the start of the second half and passes went astray and possession was lost all too easily. India broke the deadlock when Gurjant Singh scored a poacher’s goal. The ball was sent forward by Mandeep Singh and Gurjant was perfectly positioned behind the Argentina defence to tip it past Santiago in the Argentina goal.

India had more chances in the third quarter as their swift and precise passing left the Argentina players chasing shadows. However, the South Americans scored the equaliser against the run of play. Nicolas Acosta’s shot took a deflection off Jugraj’s stick and the ball shot past Pathak to make the score 1-1.

With seven minutes left for the final quarter, Argentina won a penalty corner. Keenen injected the ball and Nicolas della Torres played the ball back to Keenan, who lifted it home to give his team a 2-1 lead.

India nearly scored just seconds later as Shilanand hit the ball goalwards and Sukhjeet came tantalisingly close to directing it home, only to see it fly past the post.

With India still pressing for a goal, a direct run by Jarmanpreet saw the player felled by an Argentina defender. The ensuing penalty corner was again well run down by Argentina’s number one runner, Thomas Habif.

With under 60 seconds left on the clock, India managed to gain possession. A quick break saw the ball fall to Mandeep and he fired home the equaliser.

However, all this good work went in vain as the Indians made mistakes in the shoot-out and lost it 1-3.

India will play Argentina in the second match of the double-header on Sunday.

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