On a day when overcast and rainy Bhubaneswar kept players, fans and organisers on their toes at the Kalinga Stadium, Argentina showed why they are the Olympic champions in a tactical 1-0 win in the Semi-Final match of the Hockey World League 2017 Finals to push hosts India out of the title race.
The pitch took a battering under constant drizzle since Friday morning, forcing teams to redevise and modify their strategies around tough weather conditions, in which scoring goals came at a premium. But the South Americans had their plans nicely laid out and executed those to a nicety.
Dragflickers of the quality of Gonzalo Piellat needed just one opening to throw their weight around, and he got that in the 17th minute to provide the only goal the game saw.
India’s chances arrived late in the day and should have been converted, but sloppy finishing combined with wet and heavy pitch lay hopes of a comeback to rest.
But India coach Sjoerd Marijne didn’t hide behind any excuses and took the defeat on his chin.
“You must never search for excuses,” the Dutchman said.
“You are disappointed because we lost. It is normal. But I am not disappointed about our performance. I can’t blame anyone about this loss. We had more penalty corners and more circle penetrations against the Olympic champions.If you concede only one penalty corner (in the whole match) to Argentina, then you have done really good. (But) they have a good dragflicker (Peillat),” he added.
Argentina’s tactics to score and then fall back to defend in numbers were aided by a wet pitch that made moving the ball a task.
At half-time, though, India wouldn’t have lost hope to make a comeback; and it showed in their attacking play. But lack of finishing skills came back to haunt them and in the end cost a place in the final. India’s attacks grew, both in number and quality, in the final quarter. But Akashdeep Singh, Gurjant Singh and Mandeep Singh wouldn’t have been happy going to bed on Friday night and were guilty of missing chances you expect strikers of their quality to convert.
“It’s a learning process for our young players (like Gurjant and Mandeep). Of course, we were close (to scoring)…You have to deal with the circumstances (weather). You can’t complain. Both teams faced difficulty. It is what it is,” Marijne said.
India would also rue the harsh yellow card shown to captain Manpreet Singh who had to sit out the last eight minutes before half-time and a couple of opening minutes of third quarter.
But 10-man India did well to keep the Argentines at bay.
Coach Carlos Retegui’s team then deployed tactics like playing the ball in corner pockets and using long aerial balls to kill time and succeeded in doing that to some extent.
However, they will also consider themselves lucky that the Indian strikers weren’t on target on at least four occasions in the closing minutes of the match.
“We have to deal with disappointments like these. We will talk, recover, focus and go from there,” the India coach added.
The hosts will play their last match of the tournament, which will be for the bronze medal, against the losing team of the second semifinal in which world champions Australia take on Rio Olympics bronze medallists Germany.
Argentina will now await the winners of the second semi-final, with reigning world and Hockey World League champions Australia taking on Germany.
RESULTS – DAY 8
7-8 – England 0, Netherlands 1.
Man of the Match, presented by Odisha New Opportunities: Joep de Mol (NED)
Junior Player of the Match, presented by ONGC: Liam Sanford (ENG)
Semi-Final – India 0, Argentina 1.
Man of the Match, presented by Odisha New Opportunities: Matias Rey (ARG)
Junior Player of the Match, presented by ONGC: Harmanpreet Singh (IND)
Upcoming fixtures (All times Indian Standard Time – UTC +5.30)
Saturday 9th December 2017
17:15: 5-6 – Belgium v Spain
19:30: Semi-Final – Australia v Germany
Sunday 10th December 2017
17:15: Bronze medal match