India finished the proceeding at Johor Bahru with a 2-1 victory against Great Britain in the final of the Sultan of Johor U-21 International Hockey Tournament in Malaysia on Sunday. Displaying one of their most outstanding hockey performances in recent times, even though Sultan of Johor Cup was only an Under-21 tournament, India proved their superiority over others. Ever since India’s junior hockey players arrived in Johor Bahru for the fourth edition of the U-21 International Championship, they maintained their newly-discovered aggressive style of hockey. Except for their only loss against Great Britain earlier in a league game, Indian boys played with authority and extracted decisively thumping results from each of their outings in subsequent matches. Top scoring with 9 goals in the tournament, Harmanpreet Singh proved to be a player of great value in India’s ranks and quite appropriately he was named as the player of the tournament. But he was not alone; there were many others whose contributions in the tournament didn’t go unnoticed. Forwards Parvinder Singh and Armaan Qureshi kept creating opportunities with their attacking moves and they were helped in the midfield by captain Harjeet Singh, who was named as tournament’s most promising player. India’s defense was fortified by Varun Kumar and Harmanpreet and in all the matches; it was the team effort of the juniors that saw India through.
India entered the final after exhibiting outstanding hockey skills in their last three league games. They beat Pakistan 6-0, Malaysia 4-2 and Australia 6-2. Up against Great Britain in the final, India’s juniors were brimming with confidence despite the fact that their only 0-2 loss came against Britain. It was a hard fought match with both sides bringing out their best. For Great Britain, too; the 2014 Johor Cup turned out to be a great tournament as they entered the final with an unbeaten record. GB had beaten India 2-0 in a group stage game and their hopes were high. Missed chances, however, cost Great Britain dear with India displaying uncanny alertness on the field.
The match began in Johor Bahru’s Taman Daya hockey Stadium with both sides showing their skills in the first half. It was a hard-fought first half, in which no side wanted to yield an inch to another. Despite chances for both sides, strong defense and good goal-keeping ensured that no goals were scored on either end. After the goalless first half, India went ahead in the 45th minute from a penalty corner award. Keeping his composure, the irrepressible Harmanpreet Singh didn’t make any error with the conversion. In the 53rd minute, India earned another penalty corner but Varun Kumar’s flick missed the target by inches. After India missed the chance of doubling their lead, GB earned also earned a penalty corner in the 55th minute. Sam French of Birmingham University drove the ball in and brought parity. From this point onwards, it looked as if the regulation time would end without any more goals. In an unseemly controversy, India’s goalkeeper Abhinav Pandey was shown the green card in the 62nd minute and a substitute keeper Subodh Tirkey had to replace him. As the match inched towards the penalty shoot-out, India were awarded another penalty corner, when just 45 seconds remained from the hooter. This was the crunch time for both teams but the confident Harmanpreet converted the chance with due diligence and India emerged champions for the second year in a row.
Hockey India hailed India’s fine performance at Johar Bahru, when its president Narinder Batra compared the U-21 team’s terrific achievement with India’s national men’s team’s gold medal winning effort. Less than a month ago, India had bagged the gold medal in the 17thAsian Games.
Earlier in the day, two other games were played for deciding the third, fourth, fifth and sixth places in the tournament. Australia defeated New Zealand 6-2 to finish third and earned the bronze medal while hosts Malaysia got the better of Pakistan 3-1 to be placed fifth. Pakistan finished last in the 6-nation tournament.
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