Rio de Janeiro: The Indian mens hockey team reached the quarter-finals after a gap of 36 years at the ongoing Rio Olympics despite beaten 1-2 by the Netherlands for its second loss in four Pool B games.
Rogier Hofman’s 32nd minute goal on Thursday was cancelled out by Indian drag-flicker V.R. Raghunath in the 38th minute. Penalty corner specialist Mink van der Weerden scored the winner for the Dutchmen in the 54th minute.
Despite the loss, India made it to the quarter-finals as Argentina held Germany 4-4 later on Thursday. Lucas Vila (fourth minute), Pedro Ibarra (29th), Gonzalo Peillat (48th) and Matias Rey (57th) scored for Argentina while Timm Herzbruch (15th), Christopher Wesley (24th), Mats Grambusch (28th) and Mathias Muller (60th) replied for the Germans.
The eight-time Olympic champions last reached the quarter-finals at the 1980 Moscow Games where they won their last Olympic title.
India have a total of six points, while the Netherlands and Germany are at the joint top spot with 10 points each.
Both the teams started the game on a cautious note, waiting for each other to make the mistake. The Netherlands dominated the ball possession initially and India slowly got into the groove.
Late in the first quarter, Dutch playmaker Billy Bakker sneaked into the Indian circle and drove towards the post from the right but none of his teammates touched the ball as goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh allowed the ball to move in without any danger.
The pace of the game became faster and both the teams showed real intent in going for the kill. Dutch midfielder Rogier Hofman crossed from the left baseline for Valentin Verga, who tested Sreejesh from a close angle but Sreejesh was alert to avoid the danger.
India came up with their first attack — building from the right as S.V. Sunil and S.K. Uthappa moved inside the Dutch circle but the latter’s pass towards the front of the goal was blocked by defender Mink van der Weerden, who outsmarted Sunil and Nikkin Thimmaiah.
Later, the Dutch came roaring with a fierce counter-attack with Jeroen Hertzberger passing to Mirco Pruijser but Jorrit Croon failed to successfully deflect past Sreejesh.
Barely 90 seconds after the 10-minute break, Sreejesh’s clearance off a counter-attack saw the ball rising up to dangerous height, earning the Netherlands their first penalty corner. Even though star drag-flicker van der Weerden’s flick was blocked by Sreejesh on his left but Hofman pounced on the opportunity to drive the ball home in the 32nd minute.
However, the good thing was India remained unflustered by the goal and India continued to play according to the plan.
They managed to earn a penalty corner, which saw Rupinder’s powerful flick was blocked by Dutch custodian Jaap Stockmaan. The ball rose up to a dangerous height, and in the second attempt, Rupinder’s flick entered the goal after being deflected by the first onrushing defender in the 38th minute.
Later, a hard tackle and subsequent action saw India’s Raghunath and Sunil being sidelined for indiscipline for 10 minutes and five minutes respectively.
With only eight outfield players for India available, the Netherlands saw this as a great opportunity and pappered the Indian circle but the Indian defence stood strong.
In the final quarter, the Netherlands mounted attack and earned as many as five penalty corners. They regained the lead in the 54th minutes when van der Weerden fired a scorching grounder to the low left corner to make it 2-1.
In the dying moments, India removed goalkeeper Sreejesh to bring in an extra outfield player and their attack was fruitful, earning them as many as four back-to-back penalty corners. But Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh failed to convert them as India lost the game 1-2.