Sunday, October 19, 2014

4th Sultan of Johor Cup Harmanpreet's final minute strike steers India to glory

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The 2013 Sultan of Johor Cup saw India did not break much sweat in prevailing over hosts Malaysia 3-0 in the final showdown. But the summit clash of the 2014 edition panned out to be a much tighter contest as India made a determined bid to retain the crown. The Harjeet Singh-captained side, who came into the final overflowing with confidence on the back of a sensational 6-2 win over Australia in the semifinals, rode on a final minute penalty corner conversion by in-form Harmanpreet Singh  to vanquish Great Britain 2-1 at the Tamam Daya Hockey Stadium in Johor Bahru.

The 2012 runners-up seemed to have carried off from where they left off in that game, looking neat in their possession and calm and composed even when they were hustled by the Great Britain players. India must have learn their lessons from their 0-2 loss to Great Britain in the league phase, dominating possession in the first half, although they were not allowed to mount consistent raids in their opponent’s striking circle.

It seemed as if India were doing everything in a disciplined manner except for scoring. Great Britain gave the Indian defence some jitters in the closing stages, but goalkeeper Abhinav Pandey, who is having a magnificent run in the tournament, pulled off two stunning saves to ensure a goalless opening half.

Pumped up with the pep talk from head coach Harendra Singh, the Indians were keen to provide the finishing touches to their well laid-out game plan. The move to up the ante in the second half worked to a nicety as India forced their first penalty corner of the match. Harmanpreet Singh, who riding high on two consecutive hat-tricks against Malaysia and Australia, unleashed a fierce flick beating the Britain shot stopper to his left in the 47th minute. The momentum was clearly with India as they continued on the offensive and won their second corner, but Varun Kumar’s potent drag-flick just sailed wide.

Great Britain got a much-needed lift when they equalized converting their first short corner in the 56th minute off an indirect conversion, finally beating the stubborn resistance of Abhinav Pandey. The goal came in controversial circumstances as the umpire green carded Indian skipper Harjeet for showing his mild dissent over the latter’s decision to award the PC.

Great Britain forced another short corner a few minutes later and this time and this Abhinav Pandey produced a good save. The umpire seemed to play spoilsport against when he green-carded goalie Abhinav Pandey when the latter expressed his pain after being hit by the ball, thinking to be a time-wasting tactics. India weathered all these adversities and fired the final salvo through Harmanpreet who scored his ninth goal of the tourney- emerging as the top goal-scorer.

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