Just when it seemed that India will pull away for a famous victory over defending champions Germany, the nine-times Champions Trophy winners came back strongly to hold the resurgent Indians 3-3 in the opening match of the 2016 Champions Trophy being played in London.
India scored through Raghunath (7th), Mandeep Singh (26th) and Harmanpreet Singh (32nd). The reigning Olympic Champions had a double goal from Tom Grambusch (26th, 36th) and the equalizer off a stroke from Jonas Gomoll (57th).
Believe it or not, India led 3-1 in the 3rd quarter and seemed to carry a punch that would have delivered more, but some fault-lines remain embedded in the DNA of Indian hockey, emerging just when India seemed to be heading to victory. The Indians threw it away with silly errors which got them temporary suspensions, and then the 9th penalty corner from Germany so cruelly given away by a wild swipe on the top of the striking circle by Harjeet Singh. It led to a penalty stroke and allowed Germany to equalize 3-3.Indian coach Roelant Oltmans was the first to point out the errors. “The inexperience of our young players cost us the match but we will learn.” Oltmans didn’t play down the occasion either. “And, I would agree that a 3-3 draw against the defending champions is a good score.”
In the opening minutes, India held space very well as the young German side faltered in the midfield. Despite the absence of their talismanic captain Sardar Singh, India looked strong and controlled the game well. The Germans did create space, the way they usually do – knocking the ball around in dizzying geometric patterns. But the Indian forwards came back to cut the angles and thus devise the counter-attack that created self-doubt in the minds of the German players.
One of the counter-attacks set up the first penalty corner in the 7th minute and Raghunath fired a low, pacy flick to the right of the German goalkeeper Walter Tobias for India’s opening goal. The start was perfect and India needed to build on it. It seemed THE day for India when SV Sunil rushed into the German striking circle and the shot went in. But the German referral was right as the TV replays showed that the ball had hit his foot.
Germany was slowly building up the tempo and in a few concentrated attacks broke the Indian defence down. The Indian defenders were not low enough while tackling and gave away the first penalty corner to Germany in the 17th minute. A deflection off Manpreet Singh’s foot led to a second consecutive penalty corner and this time Tom Grambusch was on target as Germany equalized 1-1.
India didn’t back-pedal. On the contrary, they stepped up the attacks and gave enough space to SV Sunil by allowing him to roam free on the right flank. The opportunity came off a clearance from the Indian defence as Sunil picked up the ball and sprinted away down the flank, stretching the defence to breaking point. From the touch line, Sunil sent in a cross, in the process crashing into the ad boards. Mandeep Singh standing behind German defender Benedict Furk had the presence of mind to stretch and slap the ball into goal. India led 2-1 in the 26th minute.
India swung into action after the break, another off Sunil’s runs earning India their 3rd penalty corner. Instead of Raghunath, it was Harmanpreet Singh, the boy with ice in his veins, making his Champions Trophy debut. It was the classic, perfect penalty corner and could even be termed ‘beautiful’ the way it was created. It was again low but slightly swinging and entering the corner of the right hand German post. Even with a defender on the line, Germany couldn’t stop it. India led 3-1 in the 32nd minute. Harmanpreet Singh had crossed the zone from being a talented youngster to a full blown world class player.
Sunil’s speed was creating problems for the Germans. Even the Indian forwards were finding it tough to cope with it. A classy move, this time from the left flank saw a Sunil cross go waste as Akashdeep couldn’t reach it. A second cross, a few minutes later, was slowed down by Sunil and this time Akashdeep over stretched. But both the times, the German defence had been broken.
In the 34th minute, Danish Mujtaba, made an error, trying to stick-check and was given a green card and a suspension of two minutes. India were down to ten men and Germany pushed ahead to earn its 3rd penalty corner. Tom Grambusch didn’t make it evident that this was his debut and made the flick look easy by beating Sreejesh on the right post. Germany had cut the scores down to 2-3. India looked hassled.
Meanwhile, Talwinder, who was having a good game, messed up by crashing into a German player as the umpire showed him a yellow card with a five minute suspension. India was again down to ten men and their structure at the back and the midfield was crumbling slightly. Germany did earn a penalty corner during this period but Grambusch was on the bench. Germany wasted three penalty corners before India were back to eleven men.With just a minute to go for the end of the 3rd quarter, Harmanpreet had the ball in the Indian striking circle and seeing Sunil without a marker, sent a through ball to him. Sunil sprinted down the right flank, beating the German defenders on pure speed, galloping away like a 400 metre Olympic runner on the final stretch and inside the German striking circle, shot on the run that whizzed past the German goalpost. It was a brilliant piece of hockey reminding everyone of the days of the magnificent Pakistan forward Shahbaz Ahmed, who for years beat some of the greatest defenders on speed and pure skill.
The 4th quarter was billed as a cracker. And off the first move, Germany suddenly found space. Moritz Rothlander was stunned to find himself ahead of the Indian defenders and only Sreejesh in front as the Indian goalkeeper charged forward to cut the gap. It was a simple one-to-one situation where the forward is the one with the advantage. But Sreejesh pushed him into a corner and saved the situation. In trying to keep the lead and win the match, India was conceding space. Yet they conjured up a move when S Uthappa crossed from the right flank. The ball flew into the air off a German defenders stick and fell in front of an unmarked Mandeep Singh. All he had to do was smash it into goal but the shot went wide as Oltmans held his head on the bench. India had thrown away the chance to close the match.
With the minutes ticking away, a desperate Germany looked for the equalizer. The Olympic Champions didn’t want an opening match defeat. In the previous 35 editions, India had beaten Germany only twice. So if Indian hands were quivering slightly, you could have put it down to inexperience of beating one of the giants of the sport. But in the 56th minute, as Germany looked for a way into the Indian striking circle, Harjeet Singh in a rush of blood, stick-checked a German forward. The resultant 9th penalty corner hit Pardeep Mor on the chest and the umpire pointed to a penalty stroke. Jonas Gomoll was on target and beat Sreejesh for Germany to equalize 3-3.
In the last minute, Akashdeep had a chance but couldn’t control to beat the German goalkeeper. As the hooter went, Indian captain Sreejesh threw his stick onto the advertising boards in frustration. The Indian captain realized that they had blown the chance of beating the Olympic Champions.
With a point taken against Germany, India now plays hosts Great Britain on Saturday.