Rain spoiled India’s party as they struggled in heavy pitch conditions to lose 0-1 to Olympic champions Argentina and crash out of title race in the Hockey World League (HWL) Final here today. The city crowd braved rain and windy conditions to pack the stadium and support the home team, but they had to return home disappointed as India were done in by waterlogged pitch. Argentina utilised the only penalty corner that came their way to perfection in the first semi-final of the eight- nation tournament at the Kalinga Stadium. Gonzalo Peillat struck from his team’s only short corner in the 17th minute to take a decisive 1-0 lead that the world number one side managed to hold on despite a barrage of attacks from India in the third and fourth quarters. Going by statistics, India had the upper hand over Argentina.
The Indians had more shots on goal (5 as against Argentina’s 4) and circle entries (11 against 10) than their opponents, but what eluded them is a goal that could have taken the match into a shoot-out. The semi-final hurdle continued to haunt India in the tournament as they also crashed out in the same round of the event’s last edition at Raipur in 2015, eventually finishing third.
The International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) decision to continue with the match despite unfavourable pitch conditions because of continuous downpour came as a surprise for all and
sundry, especially Netherlands and England, who too struggled in the seventh-eighth place classification match earlier in the day. Both the teams struggled to cope with the conditions and the first quarter failed to produce any clear cut chance. The Argentines, on one occasion, came close early but India goalkeeper Akash Chikte was alert and dived full length to intercept a dangerous-looking pass.
The Argentines handled the conditions much better than the Indians, who struggled to pass the ball and could not tackle the adverse weather. The heavy pitch following relentless downpour ensured that the Indians cannot rely on their strength — fast counter attacks — to unsettle the Argentines. The Argentines on the other hand, realised the need of the hour. They slowed the pace of the game and used the aerial ball more often than their opponents.
With field goals difficult to come by on a waterlogged pitch, penalty corner conversions became the need of the hour and the Los Leones duly utilised the only short corner that came their way. Just two minutes into the second quarter, Argentina secured their first penalty corner and Gonzalo Peillat was bang on target. Once they conceded a goal, it was always going to be difficult for the Indians to turn the script with conditions totally not in their favour. The Argentines remained calm after taking the lead and slowed down the pace of the match considerably whenever they wanted.
The Indians, though, displayed much better hockey after the change of ends as they created numerous scoring chances but once again lacked finishing touches. Utilising penalty corners was always going to be the key in deciding the outcome of the match, and India faltered in that department. Minutes into the second half India earned back-to-back penalty corners, but Rupinderpal Singh failed to convert both and from there on it was always going to be an uphill task.
The Indians kept up the pressure and mounted a series of raids and on one such occasion Gurjant Singh came close, but his reverse shot was saved by Argentina goalkeeper Juan
Vivaldi in the 51st minute. India will now play the loser of the second semifinal between Australia and Germany in the bronze medal match on Sunday.