Commonwealth Games 2018: "It was amazing that you can make two goals in 1:39," says Sjoerd Marijne after India's dramatic win
England needed only a draw to top Pool B in the Commonwealth Games and avoid Mark Knowles' all-conquering Kookaburras. The Indians, however, needed an outright win to do just the same.
Liam Ansell did just what his team needed to draw England level in the 52nd minute, just after Rupinder had struck to give India the lead. The scoreline then read 2-2. India's hopes were fast fading and Sam Ward stuck the nail in the coffin with four minutes left on the clock.
Ward, who has had a great tournament so far, continued his good form and gave England the lead which meant that India needed to score twice in the remaining four minutes. Indian fans were already contemplating a last-four meeting against the mighty Aussies and seemed resigned to this rather unpleasant, but unavoidable fate.
Dramatic final minutes see India prevail
India earned a PC with two minutes to go and Varun Kumar found the net. Both teams had three goals apiece. Not many Indian supporters were enthused though as India needed a clear win. Surely, that was out of reach with just a minute to go?
Hey presto! Mandeep Singh scored a goal which he is likely to never forget in his lifetime. Neither, are all of those who were fortunate enough to witness the magic.
It took a while to sink in, such was the drama at the end and amidst the deafening roars, it finally dawned on a lot of those watching the match on the telly and elsewhere, that India had indeed clinched victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was time for the celebrations to begin, and awestruck Indian supporters marvelled in the sheer joy of the moment. How did the Indian coach feel witnessing the nail-biting drama from the sidelines?
"It was amazing that you can make two goals in 1:39 (one minute and thirty-nine seconds). I was full of adrenaline at that moment."
India needed a win to top Pool B and did so. The manner of the win, however, will go down as one of the most dramatic ones in recent history.
The drama wasn't restricted to the final five minutes, however. Seven goals were scored in a see-saw battle which saw both teams eager to seize the initiative.
India started off showing great intent, and in the very fourth minute had a great chance to open the scoring but Lalit Upadhyay shot wide. Dilpreet too couldn't find the mark a minute later and India were unable to find an opening goal.
Sreejesh had a great match and started off by blocking Mark Gleghorne's PC. He then stood like a rock, not only blocking England's shots on goals but sweeping the ball away from the danger zone as well.
Rupinder Pal Singh looked resolute in defence for India with well-timed tackles that kept the English strikers out of the Indian 25-yard line. He limped away in the dying minutes of the match and grimaced as he did so, aided by the Indian physio and one would hope that Rupinder recovers soon.
So, India have avoided the Kookaburras in the semis and will face the Blacksticks instead. India beat hosts New Zealand twice in the Four-Nations Invitational Tournament in January this year.
Kane Russell has been prolific for New Zealand
New Zealand have thundered their way through the pool matches, beating South Africa 6-0, Canada 6-2, and Scotland 5-2 before losing 1-2 to Australia in a close encounter earlier today.
India will be wary of Kane Russell's goal-scoring abilities as he has been lethal throughout the tournament with a hattrick against Scotland and a brace against South Africa.
"He is good and it will be a nice challenge." said the Indian coach when asked about the prolific goal-scorer.
One hopes Rupinder will be back to shore up India's defence as they can ill afford to concede too many PC's given Russell's form at Gold Coast. The Indian coach told us he needs to wait for a scan tomorrow.
How should India approach the New Zealand game?
"I know this is a boring answer, but throughout the whole tournament we are focusing on ourselves and that is also what we are going to do in the match against New Zealand. We have to bring the same energy and will to win to that match," Sjoerd Marijne told us after the match.
"The players are improving with every match and that is what is necessary in a tournament. Also, I liked the energy in the team. They were ready to do battle. It is a team effort, and in every match, different players impress. Leaders take responsibility in matches and that is why others can follow."
One thing is for sure. India have improved with every outing and looked fast and aggressive against England today, though at times looked vulnerable in defence.
India have a day to prepare which is just as well given that today's match would have been taxing both physically and psychologically and they will need to come out with all guns blazing at 1715 hrs IST on Friday when they will look to storm into their third successive Commonwealth Games final.