IN A DRAMATIC END to a successful tournament, India lost in the shootout to Australia after ending the game 0-0 at regulation time.
In their first appearance at the Champions Trophy finals, and a first at an international tournament in 36 years, one would’ve banked on the first timers to start nervously. They would’ve been wrong. Against Australia, an opponent they are very familiar with, India started off on the front foot, stealing the ball immediately and exerting pressure on their opponents from the outset of the game.
The team lined up with Manpreet, Raghunath and Harmanpreet marshalling a five-man defence, and the trio were responsible for several key moments, defending bravely and stoically to deny Australia an opening in the first half.
Australia had their first penalty corner in the 10th minute and won 3 more in succession. India though rode the pressure period through, Sreejesh, Raghunath and Surender in the thick of it, constantly saving, blocking and diving to deny Australia the opener. Three minutes later, on the counter, almost against the run of play, they had an opening. Talwinder’s cross though was met by Andrew Charter and padded away to safety.
With two minutes of the first quarter left, India had a PC of their own, but were denied by Charter, again padding it away to safety.
Within the first 3 minutes of the second quarter though, Australia were awarded a stroke, after Surender’s foot caught the ball on the line from a Blake Govers drag flick. Govers charged with the responsibility to fire Australia in the lead, missed the target though. Almost immediately, in response to Australia’s glaring miss, India started attacking harder, firing up in numbers to create openings in the Australian circle. Going into the break, the two teams were locked in a stalemate, India edging the possession stats.
Tactically, India executed their game plan perfectly in the final. They denied Australia the ball in the central areas, and pressed them in numbers in the hotlines. The defensive duties racked up as they put bodies behind the ball constantly, leaving two men, Sunil, Nikkin, and Mandeep up front in search of a counter.
The pattern continued after the break, India forcing the Australians to search for the spaces and attack in numbers. At each turnover India attacked with speed and purpose forcing Australia into errors. Most of them were disciplinary. Australia went down a man in the 41st minute and then in the 42 minute with Trent Mitton awarded yellow, India were up by two men. They couldn’t make the advantage count though, Australia covering up their lines and dropping back deep to defend and see out a frantic period of play.
In the final quarter, the tide had turned. Suddenly, it was India in the ascendancy. Australia were still a man down, and India attacked them furiously, several circle penetrations ending with desperate defending from the Australians as they cleared their lines. They were down to 10 men almost throughout the quarter, courtesy a Matt Dawson yellow card in the 49th minute.
Soon the game was frantic, played out mostly in midfield, as both teams held firm in defence, and attacked cautiously but with speed. There was no break through though. In the final minutes, with Nikkin Thimmaiah awarded a yellow, suddenly the odds were even again. Both teams at 10 men apiece. India held the game off though, heroically taking the World’s No. 1 team to a shootout.
One way or another, it was a victory. A high quality game had produced a high quality performance and India were in a shootout, in their first appearance at the finals.
A brilliant performance, one to take heart from, was lost in the shootout as Aran Zalewski and Daniel Beale successful conversions and Sunil and Sk Uthappa’s misses gave them a 2-0 lead . After Sreejesh saved from Trent Mitton’s third goal, Harmanpreet reduced the deficit with a coolly taken shot, but Simon Orchard’s subsequent conversion and Trent Mitton’s save off Surender gave Australia the win.
Speaking after the game Coach Roelant Oltmans said,
“The team did a great job today. They gave it all, and I think it was a fire fight towards the end. The thing to take heart from is how far we pushed the Australians, a team regarded the best in the game. We executed out tactics perfectly on the pitch and got a bit unlucky in the shootout. Proud of the boys today, and there is no reason for us to be disappointed. We will take a lot of heart and inspiration from this.”
Harmanpreet Singh won the award for the best young player of the tournament.