ROTTERDAM: The Indian men’s hockey team produced a heart-pounding performance before losing 1-4 to leaders Netherlands in the shootout after both sides were held up 2-2 in regulation time to virtually crash out of the race under the FIH Pro League Saturday.
India are still third with 30 points from 15 games with only one game left.
The Netherlands top the table with 33 points from 13 games with three games less, while Olympic champions Belgium are ranked second with 31 points from 14 games with two games remaining.
Breathtaking hockey was on display between two world-class teams as India and the Netherlands went head-to-head in all areas of the game for the full 60 minutes.
While the Indians had the better share of ball possession, at least in the first two quarters, and went on the offensive early on, the Dutch relied more on counter-attacks to create goalscoring opportunities .
There was also a battle for supremacy between the two best goalkeepers in the world in PR Sreejesh and Pirmin Blaak.
Sreejesh and Blaak made brilliant saves plenty of times in the first two quarters to keep their team afloat.
But it was the Netherlands who took the lead in the 10th minute when Derck de Vilder created the opportunity with a brilliant stick down the right flank to give it to Tijmen Reyenga, who dribbled past two Indian defenders before heading home past Sreejesh.
The Indians pressed the Dutch defense hard from the start and earned two consecutive penalty corners in the 10th minute, but the home side’s defense was vigilant to thwart the dangers.
Then Abhishek had two brilliant chances to give India the lead but each time Blaak came to the rescue of the Netherlands with breathtaking saves.
India were awarded another penalty corner a few minutes later but squandered the chance.
While Blaak was brilliant, veteran Sreejesh was no exception as he prevented the Netherlands from scoring.
India equalized in the 22nd minute thanks to another brilliant goalkeeper Dilpreet Singh from the top of the circle. He used the pace of Varun Kumar’s pass to drive the ball past Blaak into the bottom left corner.
The Netherlands earned their first penalty corner in the 16th minute which the Indians defended well.
After the switch, the Netherlands were awarded two more penalty corners but failed to get past the Indian defence.
India also earned a penalty corner in the third quarter but squandered the chance.
The fourth and final quarters were no different as both teams battled stick for stick to gain an advantage over the other.
It was the Netherlands who finally managed to take the upper hand thanks to Koen Bijen’s 47th-minute strike from the field.
There was hardly anything to differentiate between world No. 3 Netherlands and the world No. 4 India.
The Netherlands earned two more penalty corners with just over two minutes left in the game, but lost both.
With 23 seconds remaining in the final whistle, India earned three consecutive penalty corners, the last of which was converted by Harman Preet Singh to tie the scores at 2-2 and lead the game on penalties.
But in the shootout, the Indians made a dismal number as the Netherlands scored on four out of five chances, while only Vivek Sagar Prasad found the net for visitors.
India and the Netherlands face each other again on Sunday in the second round leg.
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