It wasn’t the best of starts for India – they cut a disappointing figure in the 1st quarter but atoned for that with a much better in the other three quarters to eke out a 4-3 win over 2016 Olympic champions Argentina to leapfrog to the top Pro League points table ahead of the Netherlands on better goal average. India found it hard to express themselves in the early exchanges as the Argentinians engaged in exemplary ball distribution. India did not have a single shot at the Los Leonas goal in the first quarter as Tomas Santiago was hardly in the game.
But all that changed dramatically in the second quarter. Egged on by coach Graham Reid during the mini first quarter break, there was more purpose in the way India moved forward. Hardik Singh belted home a short corner rebound after Tomas Santiago palmed away Varun Kumar’s drag-flick. In a span of three minutes, Argentina probably did not know what hit them as Jugraj Singh whacked a fierce drag-flick to help India build a two-goal cushion. Suddenly, the Blueshirts, who invited a lot of flak for their PC conversions in the first leg, have profited from two consecutive short corners as they sat pretty with a 2-0 half-time lead.
India seemed to run away with the game as they maintained their 2-0 lead for the large part of the 3rd quarter but Nicolas Della Torre provided Los Leonas’ sagging spirits a boost, firinghome a short corner past Sreejesh’s right in the closing moments of the third quarter. The goal was just what the doctor ordered for Argentina as they came out firing in the final quarter.
Argentina who were earlier unfortunate to be denied a stroke by video umpire Deepak Joshi, embraced redemption when they won a stroke, following a Surender Kumar foul – Tomas Domene did the needful to get Los Leonas back in the contest. Jugraj Singh enabled India almost immediately regain the lead, unleashing a roof-of-the-net drag-flick and was in line for a fabulous hat-trick, but his goal was disallowed by the video umpire.
Argentina was no way going to pull the punches – Martin Ferreiro announced himself, scoring a gem of a goal slamming home from the top of the D among a crowd of Indian defenders. The match had all the possibilities of heading into a shootout but all such probabilities were nipped in the bud by Indian vice-captain Mandeep Singh orchestrated a brilliant final-minute goal after he was set up by Jugraj Singh with a clinical pass.
A huge sigh of relief of India for getting a result in their favour in regulation time, but let’s not take anything away from Argentina for their tenacity to fight back after being 0-2 down. It may be heartbreak for Los Leonas, but they can take a lot of pride from their 3-4 defeat.