India prevailed 3-2 (5-5) in a penalty shootout against the Netherlands to clinch the bronze medal in the Hockey World League (HWL) Final at the Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel International Stadium in Raipur last Sunday (6). It was their first medal in 33 years at a FIH event.
Mirco Pruijser (ninth minute), Nicolas van der Schoot (25th) made it 2-0 for the visitors but Ramandeep Singh (39th) and Rupinder Pal Singh (47th) brought India back on level terms.
Ramandeep scored again in the 51st minute to make it 3-2 before Mink van der Weerden scored the third goal for the Dutch. Rupinder (55th) netted from a penalty stroke and later Akashdeep Singh doubled India’s lead before van der Weerden scored twice to force a penalty shoot-out.
In the shoot-out, Billy Bakker, Seve van Ass scored but Jeroen Hertzberger, Pruijser and Valentine Verga missed. For India, Birendra Lakra, Sardar Singh and Rupinder were successful, while Danish Mujtaba and Muhammad Amir Khan failed.
Chief coach Roelant Oltmans said the achievement will be a “huge confidence booster” for his team ahead of next year’s Rio Olympics.
“This win showed what we can do if we play the way we want to play. This should be a huge confidence booster for the team because we have not really done well in the medal round matches. It’s always special to win a medal round match,” he said.
Oltmans lauded skipper Singh and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, who made numerous saves, especially in the shoot-out to help the home team’s cause.
“These two contributed a lot. But a lot of other individual players played really well. The most important thing was that we made progress in every match. We did something that was positive that we can build on but of course there are a few issues (we can work on)like closing out the match.”
In the match between the two losing semi-finalists, the Netherlands got off to a flying start.
Hertzberger made a diagonal pass to his left to Valentine Verga, whose back-hand cross was deflected to the former. This time Hertzberger’s direct attempt at goal found a touch from Pruijser before beating Sreejesh.
They soon doubled the lead when an unmarked Van der Schoot fired the ball high into the roof after he collected a pass from Seve van Ass on the left.
India got two penalty corners late into the second quarter but VR Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh’s flicks were not up to mark.
Urged on by a vociferous crowd, the hosts reduced the deficit aftr the break as Manpreet received the ball from Sardar Singh and rolled it in front of the post to Ramandeep, who lifted over goalkeeper Blaak for their first goal.
India upped the ante as Manpreet stormed into the rival circle and found a foot of a defender, earning a penalty corner. Rupinder atoned for the earlier mistakes by flicking it past Blaak to provide the equaliser for the hosts.
Ramandeep fired India ahead a few minutes later, tapping in from close range after captain Robert van der Horst made a rare mistake in trapping a cross from Mujtaba.
Later, some desperate attacks from the Netherlands saw them earn a penalty corner that was flicked high past Sreejesh to even things up at 3-3.
The response to the Dutch’s equaliser was quick as the hosts earned a corner of their own. Rupinder converted it to give India the lead again.
India’s counter-attack saw them produce a gem of a field goal with Sunil assisting Sardar, who lifted the ball on to Akashdeep, who made it 5-3 lead. Trailing by two goals, the Dutch didn’t sit back and van der Weerden converted a penalty stroke to make it 4-5.
Van der Weerden completed his hat-trick with another masterpiece drag-flick in the final minute to make it 5-5, but India won the shoot-out.
Sardar said the bronze medal means a lot for the team considering the fact it came after a long hiatus of 33 years.
“After 33 years, it means a huge deal for all of us. We have been working on tiny details on the field and it showed today. We will take the positives from this tournament. We will celebrate and focus on the Olympics,” Sardar said.
Vice-captain Sreejesh agreed with Sardar, adding: “We will celebrate a bit. It’s a huge deal for us to win a medal after so many years.”
Dutch coach Max Caldas commented: “We controlled the match for three quarters and kept the crowd silent. But in the fourth quarter India stepped it up and we could not match it.
“They started playing more aggressively. They won the 50-50 balls, had more circle penetrations and wanted to score goals desperately.”
Caldas added: “Our players could not match that intensity and it was the difference between the two teams in the end.”
World champions Australia later defeated Belgium 2-1 in the final to clinch the title of the second edition of Hockey World League.
After a barren first quarter of no action, Australia surged ahead in the 16th minute through a field goal from Jeremy Hayward.
Seven minutes into the second half, Australia doubled their lead through Matthew Dawson who converted a penalty corner.
Belgium pressed hard in the final quarter and managed to secure a penalty corner in the final minute of the match from which Simon Gougnard scored a consolation goal.