India wasted as many as five penalty corners seconds from the final hooter to go down 1-2 against reigning silver medallist Netherlands and slump to their second defeat in the men’s hockey competition of Rio Olympics – but they still managed to qualify for the quarterfinals after Germany drew with Argentina and Ireland beat Canada.
Netherlands scored both their goals from penalty corners through Rogier Hoffman (32nd minute) and Mink van der Weerden (54th), while India’s lone goal came from the stick of VR Raghunath (38th).
But the match witnessed intense drama in the final seconds as India did not bow out without a fight against the world ranked 2 side.
Trailing 1-2 with four minutes left, India withdrew goalkeeper PR Sreejesh for an additional forward and pressed hard for the equaliser.
Their efforts bore fruit as India earned their fourth penalty corner six seconds from the hooter after appealing for a video referral.
That penalty corner resulted in four more back-to-back short corners but the Indian dragflick battery of Rupinder Pal Singh, who took four tries, and Raghunath failed to break the Dutch defence led by goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann.
The Men in Blue, thus, suffered another heart-breaking defeat after the late loss to reigning Olympic champions Germany in their second Pool B game.
A draw against Netherlands today would have sealed India’s place in the quarterfinals. But they now will have to wait for the result of their last pool encounter against Canada tomorrow.
India are now placed third in Pool B with six points behind leaders Netherlands (10) and Germany (9). Argentina are placed fourth with four points.
It was a quiet first two quarters from India as well as Netherlands as both the teams preferred to play it safe, concentrating more on holding possession of the ball.
India, though, enjoyed the better share of possession in the opening 15 minutes but they failed to create any scoring chances.
The Dutch, on the other hand, preferred to sit back and get a hold of India’s game and relied mostly on counters but, just like their opponents, failed to have a shot at the goal.
The action was a little more in the second quarter as Netherlands slowly and steadily started to put pressure on the Indian defence.
The Dutch had the first real scoring opportunity when Hertzberger diagonal ball from the right 25 yard area created twin chances but Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, rooted on his line, was up to the task on both occasion.
SV Sunil and SK Uthappa, who was playing his 100th international match, then combined well from the right flank to get into the Netherlands circle but the Dutch defence was agile to thwart any danger to their citadel.
After a barren first two quarters, Netherlands drew the first blood in the 32nd minute when Hofman scored from a rebound after Sreejesh made a fine save to deny Van der Weerden from their first penalty corner.
It took India just six minutes to draw level through Raghunath, who converted the second of two back-to-back penalty corners.
The Indians dished out some valiant defending in the final stages of the third quarter when they were reduced to nine men.
With little more than three minutes left for the quarter to end, SV Sunil and Raghunath had to sit out for five minutes after getting yellow cards from separate incidents.
But the Indian defence did well and defended in numbers to hold back the rampaging Dutch side, who went all out sensing a great opportunity to take the lead.
Sreejesh then once again rescued India by saving Seeve van Ass’s effort from Netherlands’ second short corner.
Netherlands then put immense pressure on the Indian defence and, in the process, secured three more penalty corners in quick succession.
While Sreejesh saved two efforts, Van der Weerden finally managed to beat the Indian custodian with a low, powerful flick to the bottom right corner to hand Netherlands 2-1 lead.
But the Indians fought hard till the end and created numerous scoring chances — six penalty corners, five of which came in the final seconds — but they failed to get the back of the Netherlands net to garner a point and secure their place in the quarterfinals.
Feature image source: PTI