Kolkata: It took a remarkable show of character from the Indian men’s hockey team to shrug off a demoralising 7-1 defeat to Australia and ensure themselves a quarter final berth in Tokyo Olympics on Thursday. They soaked up a lot of pressure to hold off defending Olympic Champions Argentina 3-1 for their third win from four games and are now sitting pretty in second position behind Australia in Group A.
Argentina are struggling at the fifth spot in the six-team pool and need to beat New Zealand in their final preliminary match on Friday to stay in the hunt for a quarter final berth. Top four finishers from the two six-team pools make the last eight stages of Olympics.
India’s goals came from dragflicker Varun Kumar (43rd minute), who came in place of Birendra Lakra, Vivek Sagar Prasad (58) and Harmanpreet Singh (59). Maico Casella (48) was the lone goal scorer for Argentina.
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‘‘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. 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 frustrate us, we stayed patient and stuck with the gameplan,’’ said their chief coach Graham Reid.
‘‘I’m very happy, it can be a bit stressful too for me but we just now need to play well against our next opponent - Japan. We need to play it as though it is the quarter finals and we will be keeping an eye on what happens in the other pool at the same time,’’ the Australian said - making it amply clear that there is no room for complacency in the next game on Friday.
Coming back to Thursday’s match, India’s midfield and defence looked rather compact for the second game in a row (after beating Spain 3-0) as they put up a structured defence that kept the Argentine forwards out of India’s 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 at 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 to India - whose maximum goals in the tournament so far have come from their dragflickers.