Harpal Singh Bedi
New Delhi: India had to wage a grim battle to down spirited South Africa 3-2 to set up title clash with defending Champion Australia in the Hockey tournament in the Commonwealth Games at Birmingham.
Abhishek (20′), Mandeep Singh (28′), and Jugraj Singh (58′) scored the goals for India. Ryan Julius (33′) and Mustapha Cassiem (59′) were the goal getters for the losers .
Later in the second semi-final Australia also overcame host England by identical 3-2 score line to contest their seventh Commonwealth Games Men’s hockey Gold medal.
Australia has won Six straight Hockey Titles since this sport was included in the Games in 1998.
Bereft of government patronage the South Africa hockey is totally depended on crowd funding unlike the globe trotting Indians, But in the semi final the African gave the Indians run for their money before going down.
Indians had to dug deep into their experience to scrap through to the final
India went on the offensive from the very start as Lalit Upadhyay broke into the circle to trouble the opposition’s defence. Seconds later, Captain Manpreet Singh passed a ball inside the circle to Abhishek, but the South African defence made the save.
Proteas goalkeeper Gowan Jones made two consecutive saves after Akashdeep Singh tore into the circle and created great opportunities. Jones also foiled Harmanpreet Singh after he struck a powerful drag flick on target from a Penalty Corner .
India continued to make dangerous runs inside the striking circle, particularly creating threat on the left flanks. But soon Africans launched fiery counter attacks
Goalkeeper Krishan Pathak made a crucial save after South Africa earned back-to-back Penalty Corners.
Abhishek broke the deadlock with a stunning reverse hit into the nets from the edge of the circle (1-0 )
Buyoed by this lead India stepped up the attacks . Akashdeep Singh received a penetrating pass in the circle from Vivek Sagar Prasad. But his shot on target was once again saved by Gowan Jones.
A late counter-attack led to Mandeep Singh hitting the ball into the nets past the South African goalkeeper as India led 2-0 at the half time..
The second half started with India earning an early Penalty Corner and immediately putting pressure on the rival’s defence. But Varun Kumar’s shot was cleared away by the defenders.
Ryan Julius put South Africa on the board as he scored from a rebound off a Penalty Corner to reduce the gap to 1-2.
Minutes later, Abhishek’s shot towards the far post was once again saved by Gowan Jones.
The South African goalkeeper made a save again when Jarmanpreet Singh took a shot on target from a Penalty Corner.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, India started showcasing urgency to extend their lead as Jarmanpreet Singh created a dangerous opportunity from the left flank, but the ball just went wide.
With Gurjant Singh making runs inside the circle, India kept South African defence on their toes as the clock kept ticking down.
A late Penalty Corner saw Jugraj Singh scoring another goal for India, (3-1) but Mustapha Cassiem added a goal for South Africa as well with a minute left on the clock (3-2) .
Indians kept their nerves in the final seconds to win the match and place in Monday’s final.