A stunning drag flick off a second-last minute penalty corner from Harmanpreet Singh saw India scramble a 2-2 draw against the Netherlands in the Kalinga stadium, Bhubaneswar on Sunday. The match then moved to a penalty shootout where India scored four out of four -- and PR Sreejesh did brilliantly to save two -- to take home a bonus point.
The Netherlands had started the game brilliantly, pushing India deep into their own half and dominated the opening period, till Hardik Singh forced a counter which he himself finished off with an opportunistic hit into the near post through a swarm of legs in front of goal. It was a brilliant finish, and India took a 1-0 lead into the second quarter despite not having done much else to earn it.
In the second quarter, the tables were reversed. India dominated for almost all of the fifteen minute period before Manpreet Singh was forced to pass the ball out behind inside the D, and conceded a PC. Pro League top scorer Jip Janssen stepped up and sent a trademark thunderbolt clattering into the bottom corner.
India then went into their shell in the third quarter, inviting more and more pressure from a Dutch team who were more than willing to exert it. It paid off within nine minutes of the restart as the pressure forced a penalty corner concession. With Janssen off the pitch big Jasper Blinkman stepped up to hit it at goal. The initial flick was saved by Krishan Pathak (who kept,as is the norm now, in the first and third quarter), but Koen Bijen was onto it with sensational speed and turned in the rebound. It was a superb forward's finish from Bijen.
India continued to sit back, unable to string together a move to break out of the intense Dutch pressure in that quarter.
The last fifteen started on a more even keel, and with India throwing numbers forward, it became a lot more open. Both teams missed good chances on the counter, before Harmanpreet stepped up to decide it. Before the match started, Dutch coach Jeroen Delmee had talked about the importance of not conceding penalty corners to India, and that point was driven home when Janssen made a rather silly foul at the edge of the D. Harmanpreet stepped and blootered a trademark flick into the bottom corner, showing just why man-of-the-match Hardik said "we have the best drag flicker in the world right now" during the presentation ceremony.
In the Pro League matches that end as draws are still counted as draws, but a penalty shootout is held, and the winner is awarded one bonus point. Here, India dominated from start to finish: Harmanpreet, Sukhjeet Singh, Lalit Upadhyay and Shamsher Singh all converted with ease while Sreejesh did brilliantly to save Jorrit Croon's and Jonas de Geus' efforts. In fact, he also appeared to have saved Bijen's effort, but the refs adjudged it to be off the backstick and a penalty stroke was awarded, which was converted.
India will take heart from the late equaliser and the penalty shootout triumph, while world no.1 side Netherlands will be ruing that they couldn't make their on-field domination (especially in the first and third quarters) count on the scoreboard.
India will now take on Australia on Feb 15 in the Kalinga, and we'll be here with our live blog for that. Until then, you can relive the action from this exciting Pro League encounter right here on our blog:
(Please wait a few seconds for the blog to load. If it still doesn't, please click here).