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Indian men stage stunning rally to beat Spain in FIH Pro League

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The hosts rally from 1-4 down and convert a winning penalty stroke in the dying seconds; Indian women too register comeback win over Spain in Bhubaneswar.



Indian hockey player Varun Kumar(Hockey India)


It’s been a roller coaster few months for the Indian men’s hockey team after the Tokyo Olympics high. A couple of upsets, and a couple of 10-2 wins. Add a monumental comeback victory to it.

Down 1-4 with 20 minutes to go which turned 4-4 with four seconds on the clock, Harmanpreet Singh struck off a penalty stroke as India beat Spain 5-4 in a pulsating FIH Pro League encounter at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Saturday. In a game dominated by set-pieces, the Tokyo bronze medallists found the decisive last touch to take three points, a prospect that appeared distant after Spain captain Marc Miralles’ hat-trick.

Harmanpreet’s first strike of the match stood cancelled and his penalty corner (PC) in the seventh minute was overturned on review as it brushed the Spanish first runner above the knee. It was Spain instead who went ahead in the 14th minute through a PC, Pau Cunill going to the left of Suraj Karkera.

Harmanpreet still got the hosts back 20 seconds before the break with a dragflick to the left of Mario Garin. India got PR Sreejesh in the goal in the second quarter, but even the veteran couldn’t fix the goal leak from Spain’s set-pieces. Miralles fired one between his legs off a PC in the 20th minute, and three minutes later converted a penalty stroke, awarded for a rough tackle. India pressed harder but could not beat a brilliant Garin. Things were going the visitors’ way, including a review that awarded Miralles his third in the 40th minute, off a thunderous strike from the edge of the D.

Down 4-1, India rose for the fight. Shilanand Lakra pounced on a rebound off a save by Garin that Akashdeep Singh couldn’t put away. Two minutes later, Shamsher Singh was at the right spot to seize on a defensive touch off a PC.

India continued to manufacture chances but Spain kept them at bay. With a little over five minutes left, Varun Kumar—in this 100th international—finally converted a PC to equalise. With seconds to go and Abhishek taking a shot on goal, Ignacio Rodriguez plonked his stick from behind. Harmanpreet calmly placed the penalty stroke to Garin’s left.

It wasn’t India’s only come-from-behind victory on the day. The women too had scripted one earlier in the evening, though not as dramatic. The world No. 9 team beat Spain, World Cup bronze medallists, 2-1 from a goal down. It made it three wins out of three for India in their debut Pro League season, having beaten China twice after the matches against Netherlands in Bhubaneswar last weekend were postponed.

Spain began with purpose. India goalkeeper and stand-in captain Savita was made to work to keep it goalless in the first quarter. Three minutes into the second, an unmarked Marta Segu struck with a reverse flick.

Two minutes later, India equalised with Jyoti, positioned in front of the Spanish citadel, popping the ball in from the left. At half-time, Spain had 19 circle penetrations to India's five and eight shots to the hosts’ one. Spain’s dominance ended there. India continued to ask the question of the Spanish defence and the decisive answer came in the 52nd minute. Neha pounced on a rebound off the goalkeeper and won a scramble with a bunch of Spanish defenders, deflecting the ball into the goal.

Spain finished the contest with more possession, circle entries and shots on goal, India with the victory.

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