IN THE ALL-IMPORTANT ASIAN ENCOUNTER, India beat Korea 2-1, to move up to second on the table and improve their bid for a medal in the Champions Trophy.
India, the higher ranked of the two, started on the front foot and started dominating the possession and the areas, a pattern that continued through the game. Korea were defending deep, and playing a five-man defence racking up the bodies behind the ball, and relying on the counter.
It didn’t take very long for India to launch an attempt on goal though, as Mandeep’s reverse hit from the top of the circle was blocked to deny India the opener. Four minutes later, Mandeep was at the centre of it again, stealing the ball on the right side of the field and launching himself into the circle. But, the final pass betrayed him, padded away by Doopyo Hong in Korea’s goal.
The second quarter was more of the same, Sunil came closest, denied by Hong at the near post and then Nikkin caught the ball on the foot, with the goal gaping in front. There was a sense that India were getting closer and a breakthrough was near. The two teams went into half time level at 0-0; that and the penalty corners column, the only pieces of statistic that betrayed Korea’s presence in the game.
India came out looking to work the statistics and possession into goals, and after a tepid opening minutes the wait ended in style. Akashdeep stole the ball near the centre circle, and deftly passed it back to Manpreet, who timed a perfect long pass to Sunil. Sunil ran through the centre, passed back to Akashdeep at the top of the circle, and kept running on. The final ball found him in front of goal with only Hong to beat. That took its own bit of style though, as Sunil nutmegged the keeper with his second touch, before slamming into an empty goal to give them the lead.
With India in the lead, Korea were forced out of their defensive shell to find the equaliser and the defensive lapses soon showed as India won their first PC of the game in the 41st minute. Raghunath was denied a chance to shoot though, and the two teams went into the final break with India leading 1-0.
India had several chances in the final quarter, winning two PCs, as Korea got desperate and ran up in numbers, leaving large gaps at the back. Harmanpreet was denied by Hong, after fashioning a chance out of nothing with brilliant skill.
With 3 minutes left, Korea looked to have broken India’s hold on the game. Anti-climactically and against the run of play, they equalised through Kim Juhun. Sixty three seconds later though India had it back. A mistake at the back by Bae Jongsuk gifted the ball to Talwinder, who unleashed a rasping cross on the reverse. Nikkin Thimmaiah was waiting at the far post, tapping the ball in gently. It was to prove the winner, the victory pushing India to second in the rankings in points tally.
Speaking after the game Roelant Oltmans said,
“We completely dominated the game, and made it exciting at the last for no reason. Korea’s defence kept us out for a long period, and I’m happy that we could get back soon after conceding one. We are still growing, and this keeps us in the medal hunt.”
India take on Australia in their final Pool encounter on June 16.