India beat Argentina 3-1 to secure quarter-final place in men's hockey
A resilient performance by India saw them register a thrilling 3-1 win over the defending Olympic Champions Argentina in their fourth Pool A encounter. This was India's third win in the Pool stage which has put them second in the table with one more match remaining to be played against hosts Japan on Friday.
India's goals came from drag-flicker Varun Kumar (43') called up in place of Birendra Lakra, Vivek Sagar Prasad (58') and Harmanpreet Singh (59'). Maico Casella (48') was the lone goal scorer for Argentina.
Having secured two wins (3-2 against New Zealand; 3-0 against Spain) and a bitter 1-7 loss against World No.1 Australia in their Pool A campaign, India's intent to put Argentina under the pump was evident with dominant ball possession. They tested the Argentine defence with as many as seven circle penetrations and a potential shot on goal in the 4th minute when Simranjeet Singh from the top of the circle set up Dilpreet Singh who was positioned well in front of the post. The youngster, however, could not muster a powerful shot and failed to put the ball past Argentina's veteran keeper Vivaldi Juan Manuel.
India's midfield and defence looked rather compact as they put up a structured defence that kept the Argentine forwards out of the circle. The second quarter saw India make nine more circle penetrations and took two more shots on goal, but they lacked the finishing touch to put it past the 42-year-old Vivaldi who stood like a rock guarding Argentina's post.
Even though the Indian team continued to keep ball possession, Argentina's alertness in defending ensured they did not give away easy penalty corners (PC).
With both teams locked in a 0-0 stalemate at half-time, India managed to change the script as they earned three PC opportunities early in the third quarter. Though Rupinder Pal Singh couldn't convert two back-to-back opportunities in the 42nd minute, Varun Kumar did well to power the ball past Vivaldi.
The last few minutes in the third quarter saw India being awarded three more PCs. While two of Harmanpreet's attempts were blocked well by Argentina rushers, the third attempt saw India create a smart variation, but Vivaldi was on point to make a brilliant save that kept India from extending their lead going into the final quarter.
Conceding a PC against a team like Argentina whose PC attack is one of the best in the world saw India fumble their 1-0 lead in the 48th minute as Maico Casella was impeccable in his drag-flick to pump the ball to the top right corner.
"Good performance today. This is what Argentina can do, they sit back in the game, and then all of a sudden they score a corner," said head coach Graham Reid after the game.
"You know these things can happen when you play a team like Argentina. We again put our opportunities away, we created enough. But what was good is that we didn't let that frustrates us, we stayed patient and stuck with the game plan."
Back in the game now, Argentina upped the pressure on India. They forced India to make another infringement in the 53rd minute but the danger was warded off by a good PC defence by Indian rushers.
With a little over three minutes of play remaining, Dilpreet inside the D received a good pass, turned around to position him to take a shot on goal but it bounced off Vivaldi's pads. However, Vivek Sagar Prasad gave it a finishing touch with just a little nudge into the net. India's 2-1 lead was extended in the 59th minute when they won a PC and it was brilliantly struck by Harmanpreet Singh, thus ensuring the team a place in the quarter-final of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Featured photo: Hockey India