The Indian men's hockey team slumped to its third defeat in the FIH Pro League, losing 1-3 to Argentina in the shootout of the first leg match after both the teams were tied 2-2 at the end of the regulation time at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Saturday.
Gurjant Singh (38th minute) and Mandeep Singh (60th) were the goal-scorers for India, while Argentina's goals came from the sticks of Nicolas Acosta (45th) and Nicolas Keenan (52nd).
It was a terrible shootout from Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist India as only Harmanpreet Singh scored, while Abhishek, Gurjant and Sukhjeet Singh faltered. For Argentina, Keenan, Tomas Domene and Lucas Toscani found the back of the net in the shootout.
By virtue of this win, Argentina secured a bonus point and climbed to fourth position in the standings with 11 points from five games. India, on the other hand, continue to occupy the second spot despite the loss with 13 points from seven matches.
Both the sides will lock horns again in the return leg on Sunday.
The match was a fast-paced, end-to-end affair but it was India who had two good openings created by Harmanpreet in the first quarter but the forward-line failed to deliver.
Argentina soon had the first shy at the goal but India custodian Krishan Bahadur Pathak, who returned to the side after missing the Spain tie, made a fantastic reflex save to deny the visitors.
Argentina secured the first penalty corner of the match soon but wasted the opportunity as India were put under a bit of pressure towards the end of the first quarter.
India's efforts bore fruit as they secured three consecutive penalty corners but despite having Harmanpreet on the pitch, the Los Leonas defended stoutly to deny the hosts. They enjoyed another spell of possession and earned another penalty corner, this time young Jugraj Singh stepped up but failed to get a decent connection.
Soon after, an alert veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh came out of his line to close down the angle after Harmanpreet lost the ball dangerously outside the India circle. In the first two quarters, the pressure from open play was largely from India.
India kept up their pressure on the Argentine defence after the change of ends and finally succeeded in breaking the deadlock in the 39th minute through comeback man Gurjant Singh, who scored a lovely poacher's goal from an assist by Jugraj.
Argentina drew level in the last minute of third quarter against the run of play through Acosta, whose shot got an awkward deflection from an Indian stick and beat Pathak all ends up.
A minute into the fourth quarter, Argentina's Ferreiro got a big chance to take the lead but Sreejesh closed the angle to save his side.
Conceding late goals came to haunt India once again when eight minutes from the final hooter, the home team defence gave away a penalty corner for an Indian foot inside the circle. India went for an unsuccessful review and from the resultant set piece, Nicolas Keena scored to hand Argentina 2-1 lead.
Two minutes later, Gurjant came close to scoring his second of the day but his shot went agonisingly wide to the left of the goal.
With their backs to the wall, a desperate India mounted raids after raids on the Argentina defence thereafter and managed to secure another penalty corner four minutes from full time when Jarmanpreet Singh was brought down inside the circle.
But as has been the case all throughout the evening, Argentina's rushing out has been stellar yet again as they denied Harmanpreet to get a shot.
India, however, didn't lose hope and kept on attacking and from one such counter an opportunist Mandeep, lurking in front of the goal, scored after the ball fell in front of his stick following a deflection.