India built on a strong defensive performance to upset Olympic Champions Argentina 2-1 to maintain their top position in the Champions Trophy league standings.
Having thumped Pakistan 4-0 in the opening encounter, India faced a much tougher opposition but they never lost their composure and stuck to the game plan to take three full points in Breda on Sunday.
Harmanpreet Singh (17th minute) and Mandeep Singh (28th) found the net for the Indians while penalty corner specialist Gonzalo Peillat scored the consolation goal for the opponents.
Coach Harendra Singh handed the captain’s armband to Sardar Singh, who was playing his 300th match for India against an opposition they had to control the midfield to survive as they were also missing the services of experienced striker Ramandeep Singh due to injury.
The Olympic champions expectedly began on the front foot looking for an early goal as the Indians once again opted for solidity at the back before making forays forward.
And PR Sreejesh was once again up to the task as he first blocked Peillat’s dragflick and then denied Lucas Vila to keep things at 0-0 in the first quarter.
It was India who drew first blood in the 17th minute when Harmanpreet converted the team’s first penalty corner and though Argentina stepped up the pressure looking for an equaliser, the Indians found a way to double the lead 11 minutes later.
Dilpreet Singh did a fine job of collecting an aerial pass on the left flank and Mandeep Singh rushed in front of the Argentine defender to tap in the cross.
But Argentina pulled one back at the stroke of half time with Peillat converting his team’s fourth penalty corner.
To India’s credit, the team did not lose their structure despite the constant pressing from Argentina after the break. Though they did not launch many attacks of their own, they ensured that they didn’t give space for their opponents to capitalise.
And they would have been rewarded for the discipline and tenacity at the end of the third quarter but for Argentina custodian Tomas Santiago coming up with a double save to deny Dilpreet and Mandeep from close range.
Argentina threw the kitchen sink at India in the fourth quarter as they attacked relentlessly from both flanks but for a couple of saves from Sreejesh, the defence line stood tall enough to intercept these attacks without conceding a penalty corner despite playing with 10 men for last five minutes after Birendra Lakra was shown the yellow card.
Varun Kumar probably saved the day for the Indians when he came up with a goal line save after Vila had beaten Sreejesh with a reverse chip.
SV Sunil could have put the result beyond doubt a minute from time when India launched a decisive counter from the right and the striker had just the goalkeeper to beat following a through pass from Simranjeet Singh. However, Santiago covered the goal well to thwart him but the Indians had the last laugh.