Comebacks are a great sight to behold! It is not often that we see teams trailing 1-4 deep into the second half, not just equalize but pull off a sensational win in the closing seconds of the match. Indian men’s hockey team brought their pugnacious qualities to the fore, churning out a stellar come-from-behind 5-4 win over Spain in the FIH Pro League at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar.
Playing under energy-sapping conditions, the Graham Reid-coached Indian oufit were pushed to the walls when Spanish captain Marc Miralles capped off a superb hat-trick in the 40th minute of play. The Indian comeback story was kickstarted by local boy Shilanand Lakra, who lunged to his right to score off a rebound after he was set up by two Mandeeps – Mor and Singh. Lalit Upadhay, who did not play in the South Africa leg of the Pro League, brought his experience into play, engineering a penalty corner. Harmanpreet Singh failed to take a clean shot at the Spanish goal but Shamsher Singh deflected in a goalmouth melee ensuring India profit from the PC routine. Varun Kumar – celebrated his 100th international – unleashing a short corner to bring the match on an even kneel. And it looked like the match would head into a shootout, Harmanpreet scored his second of the day, converting a penalty stroke with just five seconds remaining.
Spain’s Pro League campaign wasn’t the best of starts probably desired by their newly-installed coach Max Caldas – they were handed 1-6 defeat by England in the first leg but showed they have a lot of fight in their ranks and turned in a splendid performance in the second leg tie to nearly hold England in normal time before a final-minute goal by David Goodfield halted the Spanish Armada.
The Redsticks comprising largely a young side and only three members of the Tokyo Olympics squad, called the shots and sezied the initiative with a short corner conversion by Pau Cunill in the closing stage of the first quarter. The screams of joy of Max Caldas in the Spanish dugout was soon silenced by Harmanpreet Singh, who rifled home a penalty corner to bring India back into the contest.
Spain did not allow India to build momentum after their equaliser and continue to enjoy more of the exchanges. Enrique Gonzales was the pivot around which the Spanish attacks revolved – he showed his class dodging three defenders – Harmanpreet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Surender Kumar to win a short corner from which Spanish captain Marc Miralles breached the defences of Sreejesh to chalk up a 2-1 lead. Enrique Gonzales was a thorn in the Indian defence – he orchestrated a smart steal from Varun Kumar and subsequently was stick-checked by Mandeep Mor, prompting umpire Javed Sheikh to award a penalty stroke – Marc Miralles walked up to the spot and cooly slotted it home past Sreejesh, who was beaten to his right.
Marc Miralles, who surprisingly did not play in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, capped off a sizzling hat-trick when his reverse hit from the top of the circle beat Surak Karkera all ends up. The Spanish camp must have been thinking of nothing but a win with a 4-1 scoreline in their favour, but India scuppered all their plans with a fabulous performance in the final quarter. Spain would know it was a case of so near and yet so far and will look to build on the positives in their return leg on Sunday.