India men enjoyed a magnificent comeback after they went 4-1 down to Spain with 15 minutes left of their match. But somehow the host nation drew on every reserve of energy to score four goals, including a dramatic penalty stroke in the final five seconds to win the match 5-1 and move to second in the FIH Hockey Pro League.
Earlier in the day, India women also came from behind to overcome an energetic Spanish team.
While India took all the points in both matches, there is plenty to admire about the Spanish performances and the second meeting between the teams are certain to be intriguing and entertaining encounters.
India 2-1 Spain (women)
The first half may have finished equal in terms of goals but the 30 minutes belonged to Spain in terms of possession and circle penetrations. The Red Sticks ended the half with 69% possession and 19 incursions into the India ‘D’. India had managed only five meaningful attacks in response. As against the Netherlands in their earlier matches, much of the driving force for Spain came from the non-stop running of Georgina Oliva.
However, head coach Adrian Lock was far from pleased with the non-clinical finishing of his team, while his counterpart Janneke Schopman was keen to see her team get hold of, and value, possession to a far greater degree.
The two goals that were scored, occurred within two minutes of each other. First Marta Segu scored after she managed to make herself acres of space behind the India defence. She stayed calm to take the ball around Savita and into the India goal.
India responded instantly, with Navneet Kaur making a great run before slipping the ball for Jyoti to slot home her first goal for the senior team.
Spain continued to move the ball quickly and create chances but there were to be no more goals in the first half, although Lucia Jimenez did hit the goal post with a rasping shot.
In the second half, the momentum switched as India changed tactics and began to pressure the Spanish midfield and defence with a sustained high press. The hard-work of Player of the Match Sharmila Devi, alongside the skills of Navneet and Nikki Pradhan, began to test the Spanish side’s ability to hold the ball.
At the other end of the field, when Spain did attack they found Savita in great form as she countered the Red Sticks’ shots on goals with her own athleticism and ability to read the game.
It looked as if the game was going to shoot-out as neither side gave an inch but then, with nine minutes to go, Neha pounced on a loose ball and was able to guide it home to give her team its third win in as many matches.
Player of the Match, Shamila Devi said: ‘We played every well and I am very excited because we are playing at my home ground.’
In response, Spain’s captain Maria Lopez said: ‘We played a really good game, especially in the first half. We have to keep improving our performance but tomorrow it will be better. India took advantage of their opportunities and that was difference.’
India 5-4 Spain (men)
For sheer drama, quality, suspense and unexpected outcomes, this will go down as the best of the year. For Spain, the heartbreak of seeing yet another lead disappear under an onslaught in the final moments of the game. For India, yet another example of the way they can switch into a higher level when the chips are down.
India thought they had taken an early lead when Harmanpreet rifled home India’s first penalty corner attempt. A review saw that goal overturned and it was actually Spain who took the lead in the 14th minute when Pau Cunill scored his first goal in the FIH Pro League.
A minute later Harmanpreet once again stepped up for a drag flick after a clever move in the circle by Lalit earned India their second penalty corner. Once again Harmanpreet found a way past Mario Garin in the Spanish goal and there was no argument this time.
The second quarter saw Spain begin to find new levels of energy and innovation, personified by their captain Marc Miralles.
It was Miralles who found his way onto the scoresheet, with a penalty corner and a penalty stroke in the 20th and 23rd minute as India shot themselves in the foot. The two goal buffer not only built the Spanish team’s levels of confidence, it also served to create a sense of frustration amongst the Indian players.
At half-time, both head coaches gave their reactions.
“We need far more pressure on the ball and we need to play nearer their defensive lines,” said Graham Reid as he assessed what his team needed to do in the second half.
It was as if Spain’s Max Caldas was listening to Reid as he spoke about how his team would be looking to defend higher up the pitch and hence prevent the India team attacking their circle so regularly.
The second half burst into life as Marc Miralles scored his hat trick with a beautifully taken reverse stick shot following a penalty corner rebound. At first, the goal was disallowed as it appeared to be outside the circle, but the decision was reversed and Spain took a 4-1 lead.
It was this action that galvanised India and suddenly, with the small group of spectators roaring them on, the home side were on the come-back trail. In the 41st minute Shilanand Lakra scored following a jinking run through the left-side of the Red Sticks defence and just two minutes later Shamsher Singh rattled home a penalty corner after Lalit Upadhyay drew a foul with some clever movements in the circle.
With energy raised yet another notch, the teams faced a final 15 minutes, with Spain holding a nervy but meaningful one goal advantage.
A save off the line by the Spanish defence followed seconds later by a full-length stretch by goalkeeper Mario Garin, that somehow deflected a shot, was indicative of Spain’s determination to see this victory home.
However, with four minutes left, Spain gifted India a penalty corner with a slip at the top of the circle and Varun Kumar - on his 100th appearance for the senior team – was able to draw his team level with a fantastic turn and shot.
There was one more twist to this tale as India won a penalty stroke with five seconds left on the clock thanks to rookie Abhishek and Akashdeep Singh’s great work. Harmanpreet made no mistake and, as Spain shook their heads in disbelief, the neutrals and India supporters watching this match will have enjoyed a great, dramatic, sporting spectacle.
Player of the Match: Jaskaran Singh said: “We were losing in the first half but in the second half we made our chances, took them and won the match.”
Spain’s captain Marc Miralles said: “It is tough for us because it is the same thing that happened against England, we lost in the final minutes. But, we played well and if we play like this tomorrow, we will be in a position to win.”
FIH Pro League action continues on 27 February in Bhubaneswar where India once again host Spain men and women. two weeks later, on March 12 and 13th, the action continues in Bhubaneswar when India playhost to Germany men and women.
FIH Pro League – 26 February 2022
Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar (IND)
Result: Women’s Match
India 2, Spain 1
Player of the Match, Devi Sharmila (IND)Result: Men’s Match 2
India 5, Spain 4
Player of the Match: Jaskaran Singh (IND)
(Report by FIH Media)