Rio de Janeiro (Brazil): The Indian men’s hockey team have qualified for the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics despite suffering a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Netherlands in their fourth Pool B match here at Olympics Hockey Centre in Deodoro.
India made it to the summit showdown after Germany settled for a 4-4 draw against Argentina in their group clash.
India had last reached the final eight stage of the Olympics in the 2004 Athens edition after which they failed to qualify for the Beijing Games before finishing last in 2012 London Games.
After an initial boisterous start by the Netherlands, the two teams settled into a slow burn midfield battle in the first quarter of the bruising clash.
India were thorough and showed some real muscle and craft in periods of both quarters, just as it seemed the Dutch were going to run away and this a game of all attack against a resolute defence. It took till the 20th minute of the match though for the first real opportunity to present itself. A cross from the right found Valentin Verga in front of goal and room to spare.
Goalkeeper Sreejesh Parattu was quickly off the line to block the shot and effect the save, a high-class moment of skill from both sides.
For all their early zipping, Netherlands’ frustration would’ve been magnified by that statistic and they soon made amends, storming out of the restart with the first penalty corner of the game. Mink Van Der Meerden, a penalty corner specialist, was denied by Sreejesh, a strong left hand dropping the ball into no man’s zone, from where Rogier Hoffman struck to give them the lead in the 32nd minute.
Just five minutes later, striker V Raghunath and captain Sardar Singh combined at the edge of the circle to win India their first penalty corner of the match.
Rupinder Pal Singh’s drag flick was padded away by Jacob Stockmann, but the rising ball was penalised with another. Off the second, India went to the man who won them the first, and Raghunath found the back of the net and converted the second penalty corner into the equaliser in the 38th minute.
India defended deep in the closing stages of the third quarter while disciplinary issues led SV Sunil and Raghunath earn a yellow card each, leaving India down to nine men. The two cards meant, Raghunath would serve out the majority of the final quarter on the bench.
The Dutch had taken full advantage of being a man up in the final quarter and storm through with a series of penalty corners. Sreejesh stood strong, saving three in a row, before Van Der Meerden scored to give them the lead with six minutes of the game left.
Raghunath’s re-entry in the field would be with the yellow jersey as India played out the final three minutes without a goalkeeper, pressing high trying to force an equaliser and a guaranteed spot in the next round.
They had won their third penalty corner in the 58th minute, Stockmann saving the effort. India kept pressing though, and had another with 6 seconds on the clock. The timer ticked out, but illegal block after illegal block, would mean India would win six consecutive penalty corners.
The first three would be played out amidst high anticipation for an equaliser. Soon, both teams demanded video referrals, which turned out to be successful for the Indian team while not for the Netherlands.
India were looking to extract revenge for the equaliser that took them to a shootout, but in the cruel anti-climax, a Dutch save on the goal line, thus denying India an equaliser and a victory.
Earlier, after opening their campaign with a 3-2 win against Ireland, India went on to suffer a 1-2 defeat against Germany before they bounced back in style to register a thrilling win over Argentina in the third match.
India will now play an inconsequential Pool B match against Canada on Friday. (ANI)