Sports: Indian team’s gift to the 1975 World Cup champions
India remains unbeaten in FIH Hockey Pro League; beat Australia 2-2 (4-3 SO)
The Indian hockey team could not have paid a better tribute to members of the 1975 World Cup champions by recording an astounding 4-3 win over Australia in its last and fourth match of the second round of FIH Pro League games at home.
It was on this day 48 years ago that India lifted its maiden World Cup gold at Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur defeating Pakistan 2-1.
Since then India has never figured in the semi finals of any of the subsequent editions of the World Cup.
Today playing before a packed Birsa Munda Stadium in Rourkela, the home team led by Harmanpreet Singh had every reason to feel pleased about its performance in the second round of FIH Pro League featuring World Cup champions Germany and leading top team Australia. India won all four games – two outrightly against World Cup Champions Germany and one straight win and another penalty shootout win against Australia to wrap up its engagement on a celebratory note. This performance partially puts behind the World Cup display by the home team that ended in a joint ninth position finish, the worst ever on the home soil.
After a hat-trick of wins, the Indian Men’s Hockey Team remained unbeaten as it put up a resilient performance against Australia in the last home game in the FIH Hockey Pro League here at the world’s largest-seated Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Rourkela, Odisha. While Vivek Sagar Prasad (2′) and Sukhjeet Singh (47′) scored in regulation time, Harmanpreet Singh, Sukhjeet Singh and Dilpreet Singh scored in the shootout to ensure a 2-2 (4-3 SO) win ensuring the home team ended their campaign at home in style.
With a sensational 6-3 win against the reigning World Champions Germany boosting their confidence, India got off to a rollicking start earning a well-worked PC in the 2nd minute of the match. Captain Harmanpreet Singh’s powerful dragflick was padded away by Australian keeper Johan Durst. But the rebound was picked up brilliantly by Vivek Sagar Prasad who beat the Australian defender Jake Harvie to take a successful shot on goal from the top of the circle. Playing his 100th match for India today, Vivek made it memorable for his team by giving a head start against the dominant Australian squad.
Pushing Australia on the back foot, India created a couple of more PCs in the following minutes of the first quarter but could not make much of the opportunity. Despite the pressure being mounted on them with quality attack by India, the visitors created some fine moves inside the circle. An alert Indian defence remained tactically strong and youngster Pawan too did well in guarding the post.
After a goalless second quarter, Australia finally made a breakthrough in the 37th minute when Nathan Ephraums converted a penalty stroke. It took India another ten minutes to regain the lead when Sukhjeet Singh converted a field goal in the 47th minute. With pressure building on both teams, and time ticking away, they put up a grand show on-par with each other.
An unintentional foul by the Indian defence in the 52nd minute, however, gave away a crucial PC to their opponents which was converted with a clever execution. Anand Gupte faking a drag flick, the stopper passed the ball to Tim Howard who put the ball into the post. With scores tied at 2-2 at the end of regulation time, both teams went into a tense shootout. Experienced goalkeeper Sreejesh once again proved just why he is a class apart as he not only made some fine saves but also took a crucial referral that saved the day for India and even won the extra point for his team.
Earlier in their campaign, India had registered successive wins against reigning World Champions Germany 3-2 and 6-3; and 5-4 against World No.4 Australia (5-4). They had begun this season of the prestigious league with a 4-3 and 7-4 win against New Zealand followed by a 2-3 loss and 2-2 (3-1 SO) win against Spain in the home games played in October-November last year.
Next, India will resume the FIH Hockey Pro League matches in May 2023 when they travel to Europe to take on Belgium, Great Britain, Netherlands and Argentina.