Just when it seemed that India were going to fire blanks and a freak move from Canada could dismantle the 5-time champions, Harmanpreet Singh and Talwinder Singh stepped up gave India a 3-1 emphatic win on sundat at the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
The victory over the Canadians catapults India into third position with six points and a big match coming up against Pakistan after a day off on Monday.
Not surprisingly, India came up against a very structured defence, led by their outstanding goalkeeper David Carter. Yet in the 3rd minute after India opened the scoring, it seemed they would use the momentum and score a few more.
The opening goal was scored by Thimmaiah but it was an absolutely super 60-metre pass from Rupinder Pal Singh that found SV Sunil on top of the circle. Sunil’s pass found an advancing Thimmaiah whose first shot was blocked by Carter but the Indian forward somehow managed to control the rebound and stroke it in.
If Canada managed to keep the scoreline at 1-3, they have to thank Carter who must have saved a minimum of six sure goals. Carter’s rise in world hockey has been phenomenal. At the 2015 World League semi-final, his brilliance was rewarded with a player-of-the-tournament and qualification for Canada to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Carter is not a goalkeeper who throws himself around. He watches the ball carefully and against India, it was the gloves, pads and his supreme positional strength that kept the forwards away.
India replaced their goalkeeper Harjot after the first quarter; the coach probably calling him off after a stupid back-stick outside the Indian striking circle gave Canada their first penalty corner. Harjot did save it but despite his efforts, Oltmans introduced Akash Chikte in the 2nd quarter.
The 2nd quarter was fiercely fought; both the teams used the midfield for interceptions and counter-attacks. If Carter held the ground for Canada, Sardar Singh and Manpreet Singh turned it on for India. Manpreet was back in the side after missing the first two matches because of his father’s death.
It was a counter-attack that gave Canada the equalizer. Matthew Sarmento raced down the middle - and after sighting Keegan Pereira tucked away on the left of the circle - gave a wonderful pass that the latter had no trouble squeezing past Chikte, the Indian goalkeeper.
Canada rode on the momentum of the equalizer and suddenly India looked vulnerable. A couple of more penalty corners went Canada’s way but Chikte and the defence managed to stave them off.
After the break, in the 3rd quarter, India attacked with Sardar and Manpreet doing some serious damage in the midfield. Yet the goals did not seem like they were coming. Chinglesana’s run brought out Carter but the goalkeeper took it on the gloves. The rebound was picked up by Talwinder and Carter still managed to save his rasping shot.
Finally, India got their first penalty corner and Harmanpreet Singh stepped up to fire in a rising shot that gave the lead back to India. For a brief period it was India vs Carter. Ramandeep was in a one-to-one situation with Carter but he wasted precious seconds giving the goalkeeper a chance to save on the flank.
At the start of the 4th quarter, India needed a third goal as a cushion for three precious points. The momentum was with India as Canada looked tired and were not pushing in the midfield thus giving space to India. Sardar almost hurdled past Canadian defender Jagdish Gill, saw only Carter up front, did a wonderful swerve to the left but his resulting shot hit the post and rebounded back. Mandeep had a great opening but his shot was once again saved by Carter.
As it happens, it took a magical moment to create the third goal. Sardar, in his own half on the left flank, beautifully dodged past a Canadian and run full throttle up till the Canadian striking circle. His reverse hit inside the striking circle found Chinglesana whose shot wasn’t powerful. Talwinder pounced on it and shot it past a bewildered Carter. The Canadian goalkeeper had been beaten and India could now keep possession and play out time.
With 28 striking circle penetrations, Oltmans would be happy but worried too that more goals are not being scored. The defence still needs some work plus a structure that would help them not panic. For the moment, six points and third spot in the standings should sustain them till they take on Pakistan on Tuesday.