Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Exclusive Interview: I have learned to control my speed: SV Sunil

This piece was published in Stick2hockey.com

It won’t be exactly out of place if one says that SV Sunil at times, leaves us frustrated given the talent and the kind of speed he possesses. But the 25-year-old Coorg lad seems to have turned over a new leaf - first excelling in the four Test series in Australia and later in the Champions Trophy in Bhubaneshwar.

Sunil was the cynosure of all eyes at Perth where he dished out a magnificent reverse shot match-winner, following a stupendous run in the second Test before scoring again in the third Test. At the Champions Trophy, he gave India the lead against Olympic silver medallist Netherlands, which panned out to be their first win over the Dutch in eighteen years.

The Indian striker shunned his ‘often seen loose play’ upfront and came up with a disciplined effort be it in scoring goals or setting it up for his team-mates. “I have been working on my game. My coaches have been telling me to control my speed as I tend to show promise in moving up but my lack of control ensures the ball goes out of play and the attacking move is wasted,” he puts forth his thoughts in an exclusive interview.

The demure Indian forward realizes the importance of making the most of his burst of speed. “Speed is my lethal weapon for my opponents and I want to use it judiciously and not overdo it so that my team reaps the benefits of it. I have learned to control my speed,” he observes.

Sunil, who recently moved to Bharat Petroleum, which also features team-mates Manpreet Singh and Birender Lakra, feels playing the full-strength top sides will put India in an advantageous position ahead of the 2016 Olympics. “Look, we have played these top sides and we now know their strengths and weaknesses. Our video analyst will help us in figuring how we can outmaneuver them in our upcoming tourneys, especially the 2016 Rio Olympics which is less than two years away.”

He has no doubts that India can really turn it on at the Rio Olympics if they maintain the consistency over the next seventeen months. “Consistency is the key and if the same bunch of players perform as we have been doing in recent times, there is no reason why we can’t win a medal in Rio,” he exudes confidence.

Dwelling on India’s superb Test series win over Australia, Sunil believes the team showed a lot of character after losing the opening Test. “Our coach was very angry when we lost the first Test 0-4, but the boys turned it around winning the next three Tests.”

He agrees frequent encounters with world champions Australia have inculcated plenty of self-belief in the side. “We have played Australia nine times this year and lost the first one 2-7 in New Delhi after taking a 2-0 in the first twenty-odd minutes. If you look closely, we have narrowed the gap and ended up winning three and losing six. Obviously playing top sides regularly helps and in this case regularly facing Australia worked in our favour,” he signs off. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Why the tearing hurry to make 'clean chit-given' Terry Walsh a fall guy?

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Why would you rock the boat when everything is going fine? Hockey lovers across the country pretty much asked this same question when Indian men’s hockey team coach Terry Walsh was declared ‘non-grata’ by Hockey India. The apex hockey body accused the Aussie of engaging in ‘financial wrongdoing’ during his stint as USA Field Hockey High Performance Technical Director.

The ‘financial irregularities’ angle took all by surprise including the top mandarins at the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India, as the latter was in the process of hammering out a fresh contract with Walsh after the Australian coach voiced his displeasure over bureaucratic hurdles among other issues he endured during his one-year stint as coach. It’s a different matter altogether that Walsh wanted the new contract according to his own terms and conditions, but the point is: how could Hockey India accuse the Aussie of financial impropriety without substantiating it?

One hates to talk about the politics that goes on in Indian hockey as the sheer passion and well-being of the sport keep me focused on purely the on-field stuff. Hockey India, unlike the erstwhile Indian Hockey Federation, has been doing a fabulous job of picking up the pieces since India's disastrous wooden-spoon finish at the 2012 London Olympics. Hockey India deserves all the praise for adopting a professional approach, but has indeed cut a disappointing figure with this so-called ‘financial irregularity’ allegation on Walsh.

Let me make one thing clear – no way am I suggesting who is right or wrong. All I’m asking is: why was Hockey India was in a tearing hurry to brand Walsh a ‘villain’ without allowing him an opportunity to prove his innocence? It’s absolutely fine if Walsh is proved guilty and Hockey India cracks the whip on him, and I’m sure no hockey lover would question that. But to brand somebody a culprit without furnishing adequate proof only smacks of a feeling that the hockey body was just not ‘comfortable’ with Walsh around for reasons probably best known to them.

Over the years, Hockey India has hardly put a foot wrong, and we all laud the way they have been running the sport in the country, but this incident clearly left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Hockey India has made it clear that Walsh is a closed chapter for them, but how do they respond to the fact that USA Field Hockey has given a clean chit to the Aussie, denying that he was involved in any financial wrongdoing during his stint at USA coach? Every coach is replaceable and no one disputes that, but finding a coach with the same credentials as Terry Walsh will not be easy with less than two years left for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

One has to understand that that the team has settled well under Walsh and achieved huge success in 2014. His critics may say hockey is a team game and one man cannot be given all the credit, but it can’t be denied that the head coach along with the entire support take the credit or brickbats along with the players for a team’s success or failure.

Walsh left no one in doubt that he really got a ‘process’ going in the Indian team and ensured that the team played as a unit. He was perhaps the best performing foreign coach India has had so far. Players may never admit in the public domain about how much they gained under Walsh, but deep inside they are deeply indebted to him for bringing a sense of ‘oneness’ in the side.

Roelant Oltmans also did a superb job at the Champions Trophy, but the seeds of the country’s stellar effort in that tourney were sown by Walsh. If Walsh was guilty of any wrongdoing and has underperformed as coach, Hockey India can sack him and nobody will have a problem. But to declare somebody guilty without giving him an opportunity to hear his side of the story leaves a lot to be desired.

The show will go on and somebody will take over the coaching reins, and probably India will win a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and we will all rejoice. But hockey lovers will have a feeling ingrained their minds – that Terry Walsh was declared ‘unwanted’ in Indian hockey for reasons beyond our comprehension.

The USA hockey’s clean chit to Walsh should have been responded positively by Hockey India, who have been carrying themselves so well over the past few years. This issue will invariably leave hockey buffs with more questions than answers!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Exclusive Interview: Have self-belief to beat top sides: Dharamvir Singh

This piece was published in Stick2hockey.com

The Indian men’s hockey team’s eye-catching performance at the 2014 FIH Champions Trophy has triggered a great deal of hope that the country is steadily taking the ‘significant strides’ towards reaching the pinnacle of world hockey. A second consecutive fourth-place finish in the premier Champions Trophy (they had finished fourth in the 2012 edition in Melbourne) has enhanced the expectations of the hockey fans with the 2016 Rio Olympics not far away (less than two years to go for the marquee event).

The way the Sardar Singh-led side rose to the occasion against higher ranked sides like Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Germany in front of their home fans should surely give hockey the desired leg-up in the country. Indian forward Dharamvir Singh has no doubts that hockey is indeed heading in the right direction. “There is little doubt that this team is capable of bigger things. We showed in the Champions Trophy that we can upset the applecart of the best in the business. We now have the self-belief to beat the world’s top sides; we defeated the Netherlands after 28 years and even beat world number four Belgium. Remember, we had defeated world champions Australia in a four Test series in Australia. All these results can’t be a flash in the pan – I believe if this same bunch of players remain together we are capable of winning a medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics,” he says in an exclusive interview. 

The 24-year-old striker dwells on the Rio Olympics, appearing carried away by the talk about the big-ticket event. “We have beaten all top sides this year and best teams are watching us closely. If we can reach the semifinals of the Rio Olympics, it will be a big thing for Indian hockey,” he gushes.

The tall, strapping forward cherishes the match against Belgium, where he scored the fourth goal and bagged the Man of the Match award. “The Belgium game was good for me as I scored our fourth goal in the 49th minute. Overall I was really chuffed with my performance in that game as I won the Man of the Match award as well. I started off in the first game against Germany on a sedate note, but gradually my intensity went up and was pleased to have contributed towards the team’s success.”

The Ropar-born youngster, who has played 96 internationals so far, attributes India’s superb run in 2014 to Terry Walsh. “He is a fantastic coach. His efforts really helped the team to become a strong force. The team really shaped up well under him, which was carried on by Roelant Oltmans in the Champions Trophy in admirable fashion,” he observes.

A product of the Chandigarh Hockey Academy, Dharamvir, who made his senior international debut during the seven-match Test series against Canada in 2009, is considered one of the top of injectors of penalty corners. So what’s his take on that? “It feels good if people say I’m good at penalty corner injection. It needs focused skills as speed and accuracy are crucial as drag-flickers need to find the right rhythm to unleash.”

Injuries have ensured Dharmavir hasn’t quite been able to cement his spot – a knee injury put him out of competitive action for a long period – his comeback at the 2012 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament was his first tournament after the 2010 Asiad.

The Jaypee Punjab Warriors player feels that hockey has plenty of incentive for youngsters in the country. “There was a time when people used to say that hockey featured players belonging to poor families, but not anymore. Youngsters know there is money in hockey and are looking to make a career out of it which is good for Indian hockey,” he fires a parting shot.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Exclusive Interview: Indian team is playing as a team, says Gurbaj Singh

This piece was published in Stick2hockey.com

If there was one thing that was ‘missing’ in the Indian hockey for many years – it was self-belief – something the current Indian men’s hockey team seems to be have in abundance. The national team has had an impressive year so far – don’t remember when was the last time the Indian team exhibited such high degree of consistency – a silver in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, an Asiad gold followed by a Test series win in Australia and to top it all a fourth-place finish at the Champions Trophy aptly sum up the highs the Sardar Singh-led side has scaled over the past twelve months or so.

Midfielder Gurbaj Singh has been a key figure of the Indian team’s success. The 26-year-old played his part in every international tourney this year and left no one in doubt that his return to the national fold was a smashing hit, after being in the wilderness for close to two years after the 2012 London Olympics. “The biggest difference I have noticed since I made a comeback to the side is that the boys are playing as a team. The same bunch of players has been playing for a long while now and there is a great deal of camaraderie among the players, which is helping the team,” Gurbaj says in an exclusive interview.

Gurbaj, who made his senior international debut at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, believes the national team is looking good to churn out more impressive results in the future. “The way we are playing as unit, I’m confident that this team will deliver at the 2016 Rio Olympics. I can’t tell you whether it will be a podium finish or not, but our performance will be good.”

The Punjab Police DSP gets excited talking about the games against Netherlands and Belgium, which he terms as India’s best games of the Champions Trophy. “We really raised our game against the Netherlands and Belgium and came up with memorable results. We fought hard against Germany but the late goal by Fuchs did us in. I thought we dominated the opening two quarters against Argentina and created several scoring chances but did not convert and Argentina made us pay by scoring two late goals.”

There is a line of thinking that the presence of Gurbaj has eased the workload on skipper Sardar Singh, allowing the latter to flourish in the best way he can. “I just try to do my best on the field and if it helps the team’s cause there can be no bigger satisfaction than that. As I said we are playing as a team which has been key to our success in 2014,” he quips.

The Pakistan players’ lewd gesture at the Champions Trophy and their skipper Muhammed Imran subsequently claiming that some Indian players came to their dressing room after winning the Asiad gold in Incheon and abused them caused much heartburn in Indian hockey circles. Gurbaj takes a dig at the Pakistanis. “Tell me if our players had gone to their dressing room and abused them will they allow us to abuse them without responding strongly. These are baseless allegations from Imran. The Pakistanis let everyone down with their lewd act.”

So what will India’s next international engagement? “Well, nothing has been finalised as yet, but I think a tour to New Zealand or some other country may happen before the Hockey World League. Of course, we have the Hero Hockey India League before that,” he signs off.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

India lose 1-2 to Australia, finish fourth

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

A close defeat can often make it a tad tough for a team to rebound when the next match is a bronze medal play-off tie. India faced a similar predicament when they locked horns with world champions Australia at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar. The home side dished out a fighting performance, but had to settle for a 1-2 defeat, to finish fourth in the tournament – at the 2012 edition in Melbourne they had also finished fourth.

The world champions did not make it easy for the Indians, pressing hard from the outset. The Kookaburras unleashed a quick passing game and looked to pin India in their latter’s half. The Aussies held sway over the midfield even as India searched for answers to Australia’s fast breaks.

The Aussies after a goalless opening quarter pulled ahead in the second quarter when Jacob Whetton worked his way on the right and fed skipper Eddie Ockenden, who calmly breached the ‘determined defence’ of Sreejesh.

The Indian forwardline pressed the urgency button and exerted pressure on the Australian defence, but goals eluded them. The yellow-and-gold brigade forced a penalty corner in the closing stages of the second quarter, but Jeremy Hayward’s drag-flick resulted was well saved by Sreejesh but as the ball rose a follow-on short corner was awarded. Chris Ciriello took the set-piece indirectly, but Sreejesh stood tall as India trailed 0-1 at half-time.

India were kept at bay but they triggered excitement among the home crowd when Manpreet Singh engineered his team’s first penalty corner, which resulted into a follow-on short corner after Rupinder Pal Singh’s drag-flick was thwarted. The home crowd went into frenzy when Lalit Upadhyay tapped home amid a goalmouth melee after Ramandeep’s shot was blocked after Manpreet set it up. Frayed tempers marked the match with SV Sunil being embroiled in an ugly tussle with Tim Deavin – an incident which saw the Aussies first provoking the Indian.

Matt Ghodes gave Australia a 2-1 lead in the final quarter slamming home a rebound after Jacob Whetton set it up with a backhander. India created serious pressure but muffed up an opportunity to be on level terms in the final quarter when they won their third short corner, but Akashdeep Singh deflected wide off an indirect attempt. Akashdeep missed another sitter in the dying moments as India settled for a 1-2 defeat. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Spunky India lose 3-4 to Pakistan, to play Australia for bronze

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
It was a contest where no quarter was given and no quarter was asked for. India-Pakistan hockey matches are invariably like that. On Saturday, the Kalinga Stadium crowd in Bhubaneshwar witnessed another intriguing tussle.
India rebounded twice after being 1-2 down and 2-3 down, but in the end succumbed to the resilence of Pakistan, who rode on an Irfan Muhammed late goal to seal their berth in the Champions Trophy final where thety face Olympi champions Germany on Sunday. It was the second time on the trot that Pakistan had beaten India in a Champions Trophy semifinal – at the 2012 edition in Melbourne India had lost 2-3 to settle for the fourth spot.

In fact, it was Pakistan who looked menacing in the early stages – they drew two splendid saves from Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh.

India slowly settled down into some kind of rhythm and forced their first penalty corner in the 10th minute. Gurjinder Singh slammed home to trigger wild celebrations among the home crowd. The Blueshirts made a hash of the slender goal advantage when Gurbaj Singh was yellow-carded for a tough tackle on a Pakistan player. The Greenshirts tried to make the most of the numerical superiority forcing their first penalty corner on the stroke of half-time.
Fortunately for India, Pakistan could not get that in as the Muhammed Imran tried the indirect route and Muhammed Rizwan Senior deflected wide.

Pakistan pulled all stops in the second quarter and equalized through Arslan Qadir in the 16th minute as silence enveloped the Stadium – it ensured they took full advantage of the fact that the home side were one man short.
SV Sunil orchestrated a fine move on the right and created his team’s second penalty corner in the 21st minute, but Rupinder Pal Singh’s drag-flick was parried away by Imran Butt. Sunil was in sublime form creating several threatening moves, and was fouled by Irfan Muhammed which led to the latter being yellow-carded – it meant both sides lost their video referral in the first half itself.
Like the start of the second quarter, Pakistan commenced the third quarter with a bang as Muhammed Waqas gave his side a 2-1 lead.

India summoned desperate measures in search of the equalizer, and forced two back-to-back penalty corners, but on both occasions Pakistan thwarted those attempts.
The Sardar Singh-led side brought the crowd alive as Akashdeep Singh created a crafty move from the right and fed Dharamvir Singh, whose backhanded broke Imran Butt all ends up.
Pakistan took the lead for the second time in the match when Irfan Muhammed converted a short corner in the 49th minute.
There was more twist in the tale when Nikkin Thimmaiah made it 3-3 in the 52nd minute off a razor-sharp Gurbaj Singh cross.
The hopes of the home side were killed off by Arslan Qadir who scored in the dying moments to give Pakistan a 4-3 win.
India will now play world champions Australia in the bronze medal play-off on Sunday.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Exclusive Interview: No Ranji side can take J&K lightly anymore, says skipper Parvez Rasool

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) cricket has been steadily clambering up the performance graph over the past few years. The state side had qualified for the knockout phase of the Ranji Trophy last season after a hiatus of twelve years (they last featured in the 2001-02 season).  If that ‘quarterfinal entry’ was a ‘serious beginning’, the J&K Ranji side ensured all eyes in the first round games of the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy season were riveted on them as they pushed the envelope to shock 40 times Ranji champions Mumbai by four wickets in their own den to deliver a big statement.  J&K Ranji team captain Parvez Rasool, who led his side to the quarterfinals last season, where they lost to Punjab at Vadodara, played his part in the demolition of Mumbai.  Rasool, who made his ODI debut earlier this year on the tour of Bangladesh and is among the 30 World Cup probables, spoke on his team’s monumental win in an exclusive interview.  


Q How special does it feel to beat a side like Mumbai in their own backyard? 

The entire team is excited about beating Mumbai, and what makes our win even sweeter is the fact that we beat them in their own backyard. We guys in Jammu & Kashmir have grown up hearing about Mumbai’s impressive Ranji Trophy record and the stalwarts they have churned out over the years. To be honest, the feeling of beating them hasn’t sunk in yet. This win will surely be a big boost for Jammu & Kashmir cricket. 

Q What do you think was the secret of this monumental Ranji Trophy match triumph? 
I think self-belief was the single big factor that helped us to pull off this great win. The boys knew they have the wherewithal to do it and showed at the Wankhede that they can rise to the occasion.  Q:

Q Do you think the Jammu & Kashmir team will be now taken seriously by other Ranji sides? 

I believe other Ranji teams will take note of this win and will be on their guard when they play us in the next round of games. Jammu & Kashmir won’t be a pushover anymore, and no team will take us lightly.  Q: You are the first cricketer from J& K to play for India.

Q What kind of pep talk you have been giving to your teammates before the Ranji season started? 

I feel proud that I’m the first cricketer from the state to play for the country, and I’m sharing all my experiences with my Jammu & Kashmir Ranji teammates. I have been telling the boys to back their abilities and (if they do so) performance will happen. The team is a talented bunch, and we are hoping to fare well in all our upcoming Ranji games. 

Q The floods in J&K disturbed your team’s Ranji preparations. Your thoughts. 

It was a difficult period for all of us. Our Ranji preparations were hampered owing to the floods that ravaged the state. Our entire Ranji side first did our training in Chandigarh for about ten days and then in Nagpur for about twenty days. The odds were stacked against us, but we managed to tide over the odds. 

Q You have made it to the 30-man World Cup probables. Do you think you stand a decent chance of making the final cut? 

The only thing that is in my hand is performance. I’m looking to perform consistently in all domestic games till the final World Cup squad is picked. I want to stay positive and hope for the best. 

Q Do you believe that being an all-rounder will help your selection case better than others? 

I consider myself as a bowling all-rounder, a spinner who could bat decently. It all depends on what the selectors think is the best combination for the World Cup. On my part, I will let my performance talk and like to keep my fingers crossed. 

Q You were first picked in the national team for the 2013 tour of Zimbabwe, but you did not play in any of the matches. Your thoughts. 

It was a big moment as I toured Zimbabwe under Virat Kohli, who is a great motivator. I got an opportunity to share the Indian dressing room, and the excitement to be among the big names of Indian cricket is hard to describe it in words. I learned a lot from that tour although I did not play in any of the matches. 

Q You made your ODI debut against Bangladesh earlier this year at Mirpur. Must have fond memories of that game. 

The Mirpur ODI has to be the biggest moment of my cricket career so far. It was a flat deck with little purchase for the spinners. I got the wickets of Bangladesh opener Anamul Haque and skipper Mushfiqur Rahim, finishing with 2 for 60 from my quota of 10 overs.

Exclusive Interview: Focusing on staying injury-free: Parupalli Kashyap

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Parupalli Kashyap remained the country’s top-ranked men’s singles player for a fairly long time before K Srikanth surpassed him earlier this year. The Hyderabad lad, who is India’s first men’s singles player to reach the quarterfinals of the Olympics, had a mixed bag kind of year with slew of injuries not helping his cause. The 28-year-old touches on various issues concerning the game in an exclusive interview.


You started the year with a singles ranking of 16. You hovered in the twenties for a long time and now you are back again at number sixteen. How would you sum up your performance in 2014?

I had a decent performance this year; of course, it could have been better if the injuries did not come in my way. I sustained shoulder and hip injuries this year, which affected my rankings to some extent, but overall I’m happy with my efforts this year.

You had the satisfaction of being the country’s top ranked men’s singles player for a fairly long time before K Srikanth surpassed you in February this year. How disappointing was it for you?

Obviously to be the country’s top ranked men’s singles is hugely satisfying and of course I’m disappointed to lose that status to K Srikanth, who has been playing really well over the past twelve months or so.

You reached the semi-finals of the 2014 Swiss Open and 2014 Denmark Open. Looking ahead, do you think you could have done better this year?

Like I said before, I could have fared better if I stayed injury-free but I have taken everything in my stride and staying positive.

You scaled your career-high ranking of 6 in April 2013. You are 28 now – do you think the best of Parupalli Kashyap is yet to come?

There is no doubt about that. I have six-seven years of top-notch badminton in me and I don’t doubt my abilities one bit. I still desire win the All England Championships, World Championship besides an Olympic medal before I retire. I’m keen to accomplish them in the coming years.

Do you think the might of Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian among shuttlers of other nations are wary of the Indian players in terms of doing more pre-match homework?

Exactly! Indian shuttlers are consistently doing well in international events and when players do well, opponent tend to do a lot of pre-match homework and I have no doubts that the Indians are watched more by opponents in terms of strategizing and planning.

What would you have to say about the dream run of K Srikanth as a senior international player?

Srikanth has been having a phenomenal 2014. He has won the China Open and stayed very consistent this year breaking into the top-10. He is high on self-belief and has matured as a player.

The Indian Badminton League (IBL) started in 2013 and the second edition will be held next year. Do you think money is pouring into badminton in the country?

The IBL is a great concept and players are benefiting a lot. Having said that, I feel a beginning has been made through IBL, but a lot more needs to done before badminton can become the money-spinner like some other sports.

Finally, what are your goals for 2015?

First and foremost I want to stay injury-free and once I do that I’m pretty confident of breaking into the top-10. Hopefully, I would steer clear of injuries and achieve what I intend to.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

9th ranked India upset 4th ranked Belgium 4-2, meet Pakistan in semis

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Belgium had enjoyed the psychological advantage going into their Champions Trophy quarterfinal match against hosts India having beaten the Sardar Singh-led side twice earlier this year – first at the Hockey World League Final Round in New Delhi (3-2) and at the World Cup in The Hague (2-1).
The 9th ranked Indians who pulled off a stirring 3-2 win over 2nd ranked the Netherlands in their final league tie, were hardly bothered by all such statistics as they dished out an exhilarating brand of hockey to prevail over 4th ranked Belgium 4-2 to reach the final of the Champions Trophy.

The Red Lions, who had maintained a clean slate in the league phase, did not take much time to hit the right chord, forcing their first penalty corner in the 10th minute, which resulted in a follow-on short corner after onrushing Vokkaliga Raghunath denied them a shy at the Indian goal.

Denayor drilled home his drag-flick to the right of Sreejesh as the noisy Kalinga Stadium crowd went subdued. India mounted raids from the right flank with Dharamvir Singh being twice denied from scoring by Belgium goalie Vanasch. Belgium seemed to seize the initiative when Sebastian Dockier made it 2-0 in the 18th minute, beating Sreejesh all ends up.

Trailing 0-2, India dugged deep into their reserves and forced their first penalty corner – Rupinder Pal Singh fired home the set-piece to herald his team’s fightback. There was an extra spring in the strides of the home side, who egged on by a boisterous crowd, evened things up when SK Uthappa scored in the 27th minute, tapping home a superb slide slap from Raghunath as both teams went into the half-time break with the scoreline reading 2-2. 

Belgium gave the Indian defence a torrid time in the early stages of the third quarter with Van Aubel missing a sitter. The world number four outfit enjoyed the numerical superiority as both Birendra Lakra and Rupinder Pal Singh were green-carded,but could not take advantage of it.

Undaunted by the Belgium belligerence, India pulled ahead for the first time when Akashdeep Singh slotted home after Vanasch thwarted an attempt from SV Sunil after Ramandeep Singh set it up from the baseline. India raised the excitement level of the home crowd when Dharamvir Singh reaping the benefits of a counter-attack after Belgium were denied from scoring off their fourth penalty corner.

India surrendered a bit of the advantage in the closing stages as Rupinder got his second green card, which translated into a yellow card, but did not suffer any serious damage as they held firm to close out a memorable 4-2 win, to set up a mouth-watering semifinal clash with arch-rivals Pakistan on Saturday. Australia play Germany in the other semifinal.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

9th ranked India shock 2nd ranked Netherlands 3-2

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Redemption was what India was looking for after two morale-crushing defeats against Germany and Argentina. The intensity and doggedness of the Indians has impressed many, but not quite the final scoreline as late goals in both games undid the home side.

The 9th ranked Indians reserved their best for their final league tie against Olympic silver medalists as they turned in some scintillating hockey to rack up a famous 3-2 win.

It was another fast-paced encounter against and the Indians were undaunted by the reputation of the world number two side as they enjoyed more than decent possession to nullify the thoughts of a one-sided contest.

India showed serious intent to move forward, though they found it hard to breach the crowded Dutch defence. Akashdeep Singh took his side’s first attempt at the Dutch minute off a nice SK Uthappa feed from the left in the 10th minute, but his shot was blocked by Dutch goalie Blank.

It was again SK Uthappa, who created another goal-scoring opportunity in the second quarter, but Ramandeep Singh, who only had the Dutch goalkeeper to beat, could control the ball as it sailed wide. Ramandeep atoned for that engineering India’s first penalty corner in the 24th minute, which resulted into a follow-up PC, but the hosts failed to profit from that.

The Dutch gave India some jittery moments when they forced their first penalty corner in the final minute of the first half, but Mink van der Weerden’s drag-flick hit the crossbar as both teams went into half-time goalless.

The Kalinga Stadium went into raptures when SV Sunil gave India the lead in the 34th minute tapping home after Gurjinder Singh slapped it in from the outside the striking circle. The Dutch were soon on level terms when Mink van der Weerden converted their third penalty corner in the 36th minute.

There was plenty of excitement going into the final quarter as both teams looked to break the stalemate. Manpreet Singh regained the lead for India in the 47th minute off a drill-in by Gurbaj Singh. Rupinder Pal Singh converted India’s third short corner to make the scoreline 3-1 with eleven minutes to go for the final hooter.

Mink van Weerden reduced the deficit in the 57th minute, but India avoided any hiccups in the closing stages to close out a superb win. India will play 5th ranked Belgium in the quarterfinal on Thursday.

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