Beating Argentina by 4-3, Indian hockey players on higher morale

Buenos Aires:  The Indian men’s hockey team got off to a winning start on their tour of Argentina, beating the reigning Olympic champions 4-3 in the high-scoring first practice match here.

Nilakanta Sharma (16th minute), Harmanpreet Singh (28th), Rupinder Pal Singh (33rd) and Varun Kumar (47th) were the goal scorers for India late on Tuesday night.

Dragflicker Leandro Tolini (35th, 53rd) and Maico Casella (41st) scored for the Argentina.

“It was a very good practice match, intensely fought by both teams. It is always nice to come up with a win against a team like Olympic Champions Argentina as it amplifies our confidence levels,” said India coach Graham Reid after the win.

After a stalemate first quarter which saw both teams take their time to settle, India produced quality attack to put the home team on the back foot early in the match.

The visitors scored early with Nilakanta Sharma’s fine field goal in the 16th minute. He was well-assisted by young forward Shilanand Lakra.

Thereafter, Argentina replied to India’s aggressive show by securing a PC in the following minutes but experienced India custodian PR Sreejesh was brilliant in his saves to keep the hosts from scoring an equaliser.

Dilpreet Singh then earned India a penalty corner in the 28th minute and Harmanpreet made no mistake to hand his team a 2-0 lead with a sensational strike.

Argentina made a strong comeback in the third quarter as they scored in the 32nd minute via Tolini, who was spot on while converting a penalty corner.

But, India were quick to respond as they won a set piece in the 33rd minute through Jaskaran Singh and this time the seasoned Rupinder was bang on target to give a the tourists a 3-1 lead.

Argentina, however, reduced the margin again with another goal in the 42nd minute through Casella.

Though, they vied for an equaliser by earning yet another PC in the following minute, young India goalkeeper Krishan Pathak was alert to stop the goal.

The final quarter remained tense with both teams upping the ante. In the 47th minute, India’s Dilpreet Singh set up a fine PC which was well-struck by Varun Kumar who has returned to the squad after a hamstring injury.

Though Argentina’s Tolini scored in the 53rd minute to narrow India’s lead to 4-3, the visiting team put up a spirited defence to end the game with a fine win.

‘We were able to create opportunities in the circle and also convert them. This was one of the areas we really put our minds to in the national camp,’ Reid said.

‘But we allowed Argentina to come back into the game particularly in the third quarter where they scored twice. When you play a strong team like them, we need to be consistent in all the quarters,’ he added.

India will play their second practice match against Olympic champions Argentina on Wednesday.

‘Each match we play is a learning experience and I feel we have scope to do better. We look forward to a good match on Wednesday too. These matches will surely help us when we take on the home team in the double header Pro League matches,’ Reid said.

The Indian team led by Skipper Manpreet Singh is scheduled to play six matches against Argentina during its 16-day tour including the double-header FIH Hockey Pro league matches on April 11 and 12.

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