India had entered the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup with high hopes but ended their campaign in the joint-9th position along with Argentina after beating South Africa 5-2 in a classification match at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium, here on Saturday.
Before India defeated South Africa, Argentina thrashed Wales 6-0 in their classification match and thus secured the 9th place with India. Malaysia and France too won their matches and thus shared the 13th position while Japan and Chile finished 15th.
All eyes in Rourkela were on India’s clash with South Africa and the hosts seemed to feed off the energy of the jam-packed crowd in the Birsa Munda Stadium. And though Graham Reid’s team won the match 5-2, they were not convincing and should have won the match by a bigger margin.
Abhishek opened the scoring for the Men in Blue in the 5th minute, capitalising on a powerful slap pass by Harmanpreet that found him in space at the top of the circle. He unleashed a vicious shot that streaked past Gowan Jones in the blink of an eye.
India added a second goal towards the end of the first quarter as Harmanpreet Singh dispatched a powerful drag flick between the keeper and the post defender off a penalty corner won by Mandeep Singh.
Hosts India could have scored more goals in this quarter but Harmanpreet failed on a drag flick while Akashdeep’s shot was saved by the South African goalkeeper.
South Africa’s best chance of the first half came in the 18th minute as an aerial ball over the Indian defence allowed Keenan Horne to get a shot away from the right, but his shot hit the post and deflected out of bounds. At the other end, Jarmanpreet Singh failed to capitalise on a gilt-edged chance inside the D.
The third quarter produced much more balance as South Africa dominated possession and territory but India looked like a constant threat on the counter.
Abhishek had the best chance early in the half as a great pass by Akashdeep found him with just goalkeeper Jones to beat, but his tentative shot was saved well by the rushing keeper.
At the end of the quarter, another Indian counterattack allowed Abhishek to be the provider and his cross from the right deflected off a South African stick and fell to Shamsher at the far post who tapped the ball in to extend India’s lead.
Akashdeep Singh added a fourth in the final quarter as he deflected a cross by Jarmanpreet at the front post that snuck through the legs of Jones.
South Africa scored a goal right after that, raising hopes of an unlikely comeback, but India added a 5th goal through Sukhjeet Singh to put the game beyond their opponents. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and Kishan Pathak too pulled off a couple of good saves to keep the South Africans at bay.
However, the African side was successful just before the hooter when Dayaan Cassiem earned a penalty stroke in the final minute cutting through the entire defence before being brought down by Sreejesh. The stroke was dispatched by Mustapha Cassiem, bringing the final score to 2-5 in favour of the hosts.
India, thus, defeated a team they had overcome easily in the Pro League last year. They, however, would be mighty disappointed with their overall performance in the tournament as they succumbed to pressure and failed to reach the quarterfinal, losing to New Zealand in a sudden-death shoot-out in a Crossover match.