Rio Olympics 2016, Hockey: India held to 2-2 draw by inspired Canadian side
India were held to a 2-2 draw by bottom-placed Canada in their final game of the group stage of Rio Olympics 2016, which relegated them to a fourth-placed finish ahead of the quarterfinals. Akashdeep scored the opening goal for India, before Canadian captain Scott Tupper equalized. India again went ahead courtesy of Ramandeep Singh’s goal after an excellent through ball by VR Raghunath, but a lapse in concentration from PR Sreejesh resulted in Tupper scoring the second of the night and helping his team earn the first points of the Games.
India had already qualified for the quarter-finals for the first time in 36 years after Argentina settled for a 4-4 draw against Germany last night. India’s opponents for the knockouts are not yet known as it depends on the other games, but from the looks of it, they will be facing World No. 1 Australia in the next round.
India dominated proceedings in the early stages and they almost scored before Sardar Singh’s shot was cleared by Canada. The PR Sreejesh led side threatened the scoreboard on a couple of occasions at the start of the match but to no avail as they failed to direct the shots on target.
India’s profligacy from open play was once again visible as they failed to break down the defense of Canada – a team 10 places below them in world rankings. Roelant Oltmans side have depended heavily on penalty corners for their goals so far in the tournament and it was expected that the team finds form ahead of the start of the knockouts.
VR Raghunath, who has been India’s most potent offensive threat in the tournament, endured a silent outing with India registering their first shot on target in the 14th minute when Nikkin Thimmaiah’s shot was blocked by Canadian goalkeeper David Carter, which resulted in India’s first penalty corner of the game.
From the resulting penalty corner, Raghunath’s drag flick was saved by a charging Canadian defense, who countered effectively and almost ended up scoring on the other end. India have struggled with penalty corners lately, having been denied on seven consecutive occasions by the Dutch goalkeeper in the dying moments of their 2-1 loss last night.
Canada started the second quarter as the brighter of the two sides, before Mandeep forced Carter into making an excellent save denying India the opportunity to break the deadlock. Indian halfback SV Sunil had to be stretchered off after he crashed into the barrier behind the goal and injured himself while directing an Indian attack.
Nikkin then was again called into action after he was played through from the left, but fluffed his line with only Carter to beat. Oltmans' side were then awarded their second penalty corner of the game when Sardar Singh’s shot was blocked by an opposition defender.
After the break, both teams shunned their defensive responsibilities as began on their quest to find the opener. Sardar Singh won India’s third penalty corner of the game in the 33rd minute and Oltmans side broke the deadlock from it. After Harmanpreet’s drag-flick was saved by the foot of the Canadian goalkeeper, the rebound fell to Akashdeep who found the back of the net to help India edge the closely contested encounter.
However, Anthony Farry’s side responded almost immediately as captain Scott Tupper equalized a minute later from a penalty corner with his drag-flick squirming beneath Sreejesh’s arms.
The 15th placed side then started celebrating what looked like their second goal of the night after they rippled the back of the net from a pass on the left-hand side, only to be denied by the officials for obstructions after India referred. The video referral confirmed that the ball had come off a Canadian forward’s body.
After a few minutes of end-to-end action, India scored again in the 41st minute courtesy of Raghunath’s excellent pass from the center of the field, which was deflected in by Ramandeep helping India take the lead. India finished a frantic quarter 3, which saw three goals scored, with a slender one-goal margin.
The start of quarter 4 saw India start without Sardar Singh after he was handed a Green Card towards the end of Q3. Canadian captain Tupper was handed a Green Card immediately after kick-off forcing the two teams to compete with one player missing each.
Canada then won their next penalty corner in the 51st minute, when the ball cannoned off an Indian defender’s foot. Sreejesh saves the resulting shot, but Farry’s shot were awarded another penalty corner after a blatant diving foul by Nikkin, which also earned him a Yellow Card. Tupper, who had opened the scoring for his side, equalized from the resulting shot as Sreejesh failed to get a stick in the way of the shot.
The Canadians defended as a unit and held on to the result to earn their first point of the 2016 Rio Olympics with a draw in the last match of the group stage. India will have to wait to find out who they face in the next round of the competition.