A day after they beat Netherlands 5-2 in their first match of the Pro Hockey League, India showed that performance was no fluke with their second straight win over the world's No.3 side in Bhubaneswar. They held the visitors to a 3-3 score in regular time before eventually winning the shootout 3-1 at the Kalinga Stadium.
In contrast to the first game, where they led right from the start, India were always chasing the scoreline on Sunday. Even at the start of the fourth quarter, with the score 3-1 in their favour, it seemed that the Dutch would be avenging their lopsided loss on Saturday. However, while the score certainly read against India and even though at one point they were without their captain for 10 minutes owing to a yellow card, there was never any sense that the Netherlands were in control of the match.
Drag flicker Rupinder Pal Singh was involved in both of India's goals that were scored off penalty corners in the final quarter. His strike in the 50th minute of the game was parried only as far as a lurking Mandeep Singh while he did the job himself with a shot high and into the middle of the net another four minutes later.
Goals in the shootout from Vivek Prasad, Akashdeep and Gurjant Singh would eventually give India the victory, but they would feel they could have wrapped things up in regular time.
Much like they had done on Saturday, India created chances throughout the game, but unlike in the opener, the finishing was not nearly as composed this time. The first three clear chances of the game all fell India's way. Lalit Prasad, Saturday's hero, missed two tap-ins from near the goal mouth in the fourth and then seventh minute of the game, before Rupinder Pal dragged a drag flick wide after eight minutes.
It was the Netherlands who took the lead against the run of play with Mink van der Weerden scoring off a penalty corner in the 25th minute of the game. Lalit Prasad drew level almost immediately but within the next frantic minute the Netherlands would score twice more through field goals from Jeroen Hertzberger and Bjorn Kellerman.
In effect, the match hadn't played out very differently than the first game, where India had dominated the first quarter before the Netherlands had pulled things back in the second. But while India had muscled past their opponents in the second half of the game a day ago, a 10-minute long yellow card to captain Manpreet in the third quarter hit those hopes. It was all India could do to avoid conceding a fourth goal in that period and while the Dutch earned a penalty corner, they never pushed hard enough to widen the scoreline.
Once Manpreet returned in the final quarter, the fightback resumed and it was the Dutch who were likely glad to hear the final hooter.
India's performance is one coach Graham Reid is likely to be happy with. Just before the match, he had said that India's win on Saturday was like a semifinal and that Sunday's game was like a final. The shootout certainly made it seem that way. "What was good was our ability to get pressure out on them and win every fight and win every contest. We were able to finish our opportunities," Reid had said after the last game.
But for a few loose strings early in the game on Sunday, Reid's side certainly proved that their earlier performance wasn't any sort of fluke.