Asian Champions Trophy 2016: India's class in cliffhanger against South Korea displayed their steely resolve

India captain P Sreejesh took the ace out of South Korea’s tactical gamble doing a slight shoulder dodge before stopping Daeyeoi Lee in the shoot-out as India ran out 5-4 winners to enter the Asian Champions Trophy final. At the end of regulation time, the scores were tied 2-2.

Korea coach Paul Lissek had earlier hinted that his team would play the same style in the semi-final too and would try and blunt the Indian attack. He did succeed to a large extent; Korea pushing the Indians to the shoot-out. India coach Roelant Oltmans was a relieved man at the end of the game. “I think we did enough during regulation period to take the match but I did expect that Korea would play a heavily defensive game relying on counter-attacks.” Oltmans was extremely happy with the shoot-out saying, “It’s rare to see all five players score (in penalty shoot-out) and then the pressure comes on the last opposition player to score and Sreejesh did what was expected. He saved.”

India scored through Talwinder (15th) and Ramandeep Singh (55th). Korea got the equalizer through Inwoo Seo (21st) and then took the lead in the 53rd minute off a stroke converted by Jihun Yang.

Knowing Korea’s ultra-defensive tactics, India penetrated from the first minute, the team holding the ball, rotating it, sometimes for almost a minute, trying to pick gaps in the Korean defensive wall. India almost broke through in the sixth minute when Nikkin darted in, his pass picking out Talwinder but two Korean defenders scuttled the move.

Pradeep Mor, after being marked heavily by Taeil Hwang, finally broke through and India had their first penalty corner. But the variation didn’t work.

 Asian Champions Trophy 2016: Indias class in cliffhanger against South Korea displayed their steely resolve

India's Talwinder Singh celebrates after scoring the team's first goal of the match. Image courtesy: Hockey India Facebook page.

After five matches, where he has been off-colour, Sardar Singh played a midfield role, back-pedalling constantly to help out in the defence too. Jasjit Singh Kular was his usual pacy self at the back and whenever he had the ball; India looked dangerous on the counter.

Three consecutive penetrations into the Korean striking circle did rattle them but India couldn’t find a man in the right position. The breakthrough came in the 15th minute when Talwinder trapped a cross, turned and shot a perfect reverse hit past the Korean goalkeeper. Korea blew their first penalty corner, shooting wide. At the end of the first quarter, India led 1-0.

India dominated for a large part of the second quarter. Nikkin was brilliant, Akashdeep went past the defenders with ease but either the cross was wide or the Koreans stole the ball from the top of the circle. Unable to extend the lead, there were moments of frustration when they bunched up, allowing Korea space to attack.

With both the teams extra cautious, goals could only come off errors. And it was Rupinder Pal Singh who failed to trap cleanly in the striking circle. Seo Inwoo didn’t need a second chance as his clean hit beat Sreejesh.

The last two minutes of the second quarter saw a flurry of moves and penalty corners; India wasting their second and then Sreejesh brilliantly defending Korea’s 3rd penalty corner.

It had started raining heavily by now. As the pitch got slower due the constant downpour, Korea once again fell back to an eight-man defence. Nikkin had a super break, right in front of the goal but couldn’t control the ball. A counter-attack gave Akashdeep the initiative but his pass to Talwinder went wide.

There was yet another error in the Indian defence from Kular and off their fourth penalty corner, Korea was awarded a stroke. Yang Jihun’s low flick was powerful enough to beat Sreejesh. With seven minutes remaining in the match Korea were 2-1 ahead. Things got really tense after India failed on their fourth penalty corner – Rupinder, not going for the flick but passing it to a diving Sardar looking for a deflection.

But the former captain created what was the move of the match. Moving in from the left flank, he danced past three defenders and with a perfect pass, found Ramandeep whose flick finally beat Korean goalkeeper Doopyo Hong. At 2-2, it wasn’t surprising to see Korea shut shop. India, trying to avoid the luck of the shoot-out, went for one last assault but a move off Sardar, Akashdeep and Nikkin went wide.

For India, there were no surprises when Oltmans ticked off Sardar Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Akashdeep and Birendra Lakra for the shoot-out. Sardar confidently moved in, performed two dodges and the ball was slotted in for a 1-0 lead. Korean captain Manjae Jung was efficient even though Sreejesh hustled him no end; 1-1. Ramandeep Singh, for a second, seemed unsure before sliding the ball past the goalkeeper. Hyeongjin Kim made it 2-2. Rupinder Pal Singh didn’t waste his move, slotting in for a 3-2 lead. Jungjun Lee made it 3-3, setting it up for a tense final two shots.

Akashdeep made it look easy as he took Doopyo on a ride before calmly scoring to make it 4-3. Bae was stopped by Sreejesh but the Indian goalkeeper did a stick-check and the resultant stroke off a video referral was scored by Bae for a 4-4 score-line. It was a goalkeeper’s match to save and lose now. The last two were Birendra Lakra and Daeyeol Lee. Lakra, coming off an injury might have created some doubts on being given the stroke but he was stick-checked by the Korean goalkeeper as the umpire pointed for a stroke.

Rupinder Pal Singh took the stroke as rules stipulate that any player from the five chosen can take it. Rupinder confidently pushed it into the corner for a 5-4 lead. It was now left to Sreejesh to win it for India. Lee moved in from the right and just when Sreejesh feinted a bit, Lee was caught on the wrong foot as the Indian captain swatted the ball out. Up went the gloves and stick as Sreejesh celebrated. The Indians looked to the umpire and just when they were sure that Korea didn’t ask for a referral, they ran in towards Sreejesh.

Speaking about the final, Oltmans said, “We need to recover from this tough game but we will try and give a good Diwali gift to all the Indians by winning the final. There are two teams who will try and win the final. Let’s hope we play well and win it.”

India's class in a cliffhanger versus South Korea is a sign of their steely resolve and this performance will only boost their confidence ahead of the big final against Pakistan on Sunday.

Updated Date: Oct 29, 2016 21:55:12 IST