India went down 2-3 to a resilient Canada in the fifth-sixth place play-off of the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final here on Sunday.
By making the fifth finish, Canada has booked their berth for the 2018 Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
It was goals by Gordon Johnston (3′, 44′), Keegan Pereira (40′) and an incredible effort by goalkeeper Antonie Kindler that pushed India to the sixth spot in the tournament. Harmanpreet Singh scored both the goals for India with penalty corners in 7th and 22nd minutes.
There was plenty of action in the first quarter with Canada taking the lead through a penalty corner scored by Gordon Johnston in the third minute.
Johnston’s well-timed flick found the space between the post and India keeper Vikas Dahiya to take a 1-0 lead. Just four minutes later Harmanpreet Singh levelled the score with a fierce flick, slightly moving to the right before striking the ball low to the corner of the post.
This was Harmanpreet’s fifth goal of the tournament. The next few minutes saw India win two more penalty corners but couldn’t quite make use of the chances. Only seconds before the final hooter, Akashdeep Singh set up Mandeep Singh with a beautiful pass but Mandeep’s diving effort didn’t make the post.
In the second quarter, India increased the tempo with an improvised attack. Their effort won them two back-to-back penalty corners but Canadian defenders were up to the task to deny a leader. Minutes later, Mandeep did well to find Scott Tupper’s feet in the circle to win India their fifth penalty corner.
This time Harmanpreet was right on target, picked up the ball beautifully after Sardar Singh’s near-perfect injection to fire the ball past Canadian keeper in the 22nd minute to give India a 2-1 lead. Though both teams traded penalty corners in the next few minutes, neither could make it count.
However, a brilliant opportunity came by when Akashdeep and Talwinder Singh worked in tandem, with a well-timed run into the circle and perfect interchange to convert a goal. But Talwinder’s shot was blocked away by the keeper Antonie Kindler.
Going into the third quarter with 19 circle penetrations, six penalty corner chances and better ball possession, India showed that they were the better team in the first half and had done well to recover from an early 0-1 setback.
They hoped to keep up the momentum, and initially did so by denying Canada a shot on goal when they won a penalty corner in the 32nd minute. Desperate defence from Canada saw them give away India their 7th penalty corner of the match in the 35th minute. But Canadian goalkeeper Kindler came up with a brave save to deny Harmanpreet his third goal of the match.
A turn-around in the match came in the 40th minute when Mark Pearson set up Keegan Pereira to score a brilliant goal to equalise 2-2. After missing a penalty corner chance early on, Johnston scored a splendid field goal in the 44th minute to hand Canada a 3-2 lead. The hero of this quarter, however, was Kindler who came up with a spectacular save off the tip of his stick to deny Ramandeep Singh a goal that cost India greatly.
The final 15 minutes saw India make desperate attempts to make a comeback. Forward Sunil did well to win India a penalty corner in the 47th minute when he found Johnston’s foot in the circle. But nothing came off the opportunity for India. In the 50th minute, Sunil set up Mandeep who used a reverse hit to smash the ball to the goal but Kindler was up to the task with an impressive save to deny India an equaliser.
India pulled off their goalkeeper Akash Chikte in the final three minutes of the match, playing with an extra defender. Canadian keeper, however, stayed resilient in his defence to deny India any goal to end the match 3-2 in favour of Canada.