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Hockey: India script stunning comeback, beat Netherlands 4-3 to enter semifinals of Junior World Cup | Hockey News

It was fate that Arajeet Singh Hundal picked up a hockey stick. Flair that got him into the junior India team. And finesse that turned him into a star in a famous win.

The 18-year-old 6-foot-3-inch tall forward, born into a family of hockey players, was the goalscorer and provider as he launched India’s comeback in a thrilling Junior World Cup quarterfinal, in which India scored a late winner to beat the Netherlands 4-3 and set-up a semifinal clash against Germany on Thursday.

It’ll be a repeat of last edition’s semifinal in which Germany prevailed 4-2. While India went into that match two years ago on the back of a narrow win over Belgium, they will enter the last-four encounter on Thursday buzzing after a nail-biting quarterfinal that saw many match-winning performances.

It started with Hundal’s heroics in the attacking third. India, until then, were completely flat. Low on energy, reacting late, second to most balls and defensive in their mindset. They invited the Netherlands into their half and allowed two goals from softly conceded penalty corners.

Coach CR Kumar demanded more aggression in the second half and it was Hundal who energised the team with his movement off-the-ball, running and power-hitting. Minutes into the third quarter, the forward made a weaving run, kissing the baseline on the left to set up Aditya Lalage for a simple tap-in. A minute later, Hundal converted from the penalty spot after the Dutch were penalised for a defensive infringement.

Festive offer

But Hundal wasn’t the only player who stood out. India had heroes wherever they looked on the field. In the opening two quarters, goalkeeper Mohith Shashikumar pulled off one magical save after another to ensure the Netherlands did not run away with the tie.

Then, there was Rohit, the defender-cum-drag-flicker who stood out as the first-rusher, the man who charges towards the attacker while defending penalty corners. Searching for an equaliser that would have taken the match into shoot-outs, the Netherlands won seven penalty corners in the final minute-and-a-half. On most occasions, they were denied by Rohit’s brave blocking as he put his body in the line to stop the ball from going past him.

And of course, there was the genius and courage of midfielder Vishnukant Singh and forward Uttam Singh, who combined to score the winning goal. The duo, who were central to India’s attacking play in the second half which swung the momentum their way, outfoxed the Dutch players with a penalty corner routine never executed successfully before by an Indian team on an international stage.

Heart-stopping end

With three minutes left to play and scores tied at 3-3, India won a penalty corner and as usual, Amandeep Lakra stood on the top of the ‘D’ to trap Vishnukant’s injection and Rohit lurked around to take the drag-flick. Even the Dutch defenders looked fixated on blocking Rohit’s angles, aware of the threat possessed by the man who had already scored a couple of goals from penalty corners.

Amidst all this, Uttam stood harmlessly on the curve of the ‘D’, at an angle of around 45 degrees. His role, as is the case with every player positioned there during PCs, was to rush in and latch on to the rebound, if any. It wasn’t a surprise, hence, that Uttam’s presence went largely unnoticed.

So one can imagine the panic that gripped the Dutch defence when Vishnukant smartly rolled the ball towards his captain. The defenders, who were to rush straight at Rohit had to suddenly change their angles and sprint in a different direction. The goalkeeper, whose task was to cover the right side of the goal to keep out a possible straight shot, was now left confused and wrong-footed.

This gave Uttam plenty of time to stop the ball, roll it forward and slap it towards the goal. And he did it flawlessly by unleashing a powerful hit that cut through the defence and went into the far corner.

It was the kind of variation that might have looked silly if it had gone wrong. But in a crunch situation of a knockout match, the two ‘seniors’ of the junior team held their nerves to put India ahead for the first time in the match.

For the remaining three minutes, India hung on for their lives as the Netherlands took off their goalkeeper, brought in an extra attacker and put immense pressure on the defence. But the back-line, which looked jittery in the first two quarters, remained firm despite a barrage of penalty corners in the closing moments. When the final hooter blared, some players on the ground sank to their knees while the dugout leapt in celebration.

It was a win snatched from the jaws of defeat. A win that ensures a third-straight semifinal appearance for the 2016 junior world champions.

Final score: India 4 (Aditya Lalage 34', Arijeet Singh Hundal 35', Sourabh Anand Kushwaha 52', Uttam Singh 57') beat The Netherlands 3 (Timo Boers 5', Pepijn van der Heijden 16', Olivier Hortensius 44')

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