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Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup: India left playing catch-up in 4-1 loss to composed Spain

Composure and sticking to a structure are prerequisites for sustained success in hockey, even at age-group levels, and Spain did it much better than India to run away 4-1 winners in a pool encounter at the FIH Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

The scoreline may be a bit misleading as India came back into the contest just before half-time and gave as good as they got till halfway into the third quarter, but the fast start Spain got meant India were always playing catch-up. Indian custodian Mohith Shashikumar made some impressive saves to keep the margin of defeat to reasonable proportions.

In the final analysis, the Spanish colts were more clinical when and where it mattered most, inside the two striking circles. Their goalkeeper, Jan Capellades, made some excellent saves whenever the Indians had a clear shot at goal. He was only beaten on a penalty corner when he was short of support – one of his defenders ejected as they took longer than the allotted 40 seconds to put on their defensive gear and get into position, and another shown the green card for arguing with the umpire. Even without any teammates to guard the post, Capellades almost saved Rohit’s drag-flick two minutes into the second half.

The European outfit showed impressive speed, ball control and ability to go past defenders to keep the Indian defence under pressure. Inaky Zaldua was a constant thorn in the side, creating several chances, while Verdiell Pol Cabre and Andreas Rafi got two goals each. Both players got one of their strikes via a penalty corner, showing that coach Puig Torras’ team had options when it came to drag-flicks.

They also showed more intensity from the first whistle and were ahead inside the first minute, probably before any Indian player had even touched the ball. A slick passing move, that involved quick interchanges between five Spanish players, pulled the Indian defence out of position, allowing Verdiell Pol to find the target with a rasping reverse hit. It was all Spain in the opening exchanges and India were hard-pressed to stay in the game. The lead was doubled early in the second quarter when Rafi’s drag-flick was too quick and accurate for the goalkeeper and the defender on the post.

Bigger challenge

India had opened their campaign at the Junior World Cup with a 4-2 victory over South Korea, but Spain was proving a much tougher assignment. It took coach CR Kumar’s wards some time to get to grips with the challenge, but by the time the game had almost reached the half-way mark.

Festive offer

The Indians started the third quarter on the front foot and earned a penalty corner almost immediately, which went begging. But the consistent pressure told via another, and with only three men on the line, Rohit pulled one back and put a different complexion on the contest.

But the Spanish team displayed maturity, seemingly knowing when to slow the game down and when to inject pace. When they had a numerical disadvantage, they tried to play keep-ball, often in their own half, and deny the Indians possession. When the Indians pushed forward, the Spaniards made use of the territory left vacant behind them to launch swift counter-attacks.

One such offensive resulted in another penalty corner, expertly converted by Verdiell Pol in the 41st minute. It allowed Spain to take the sting out of the game once again, and with seconds left in the game, a penalty stroke conversion provided them the comprehensive scoreline they deserved.

India play Canada, who have lost their first two games, in their final pool match on Saturday and should get to the quarterfinals. But if South Korea get the better of Spain, it could put all three teams on 6 points each. India, two-time winners of the Junior World Cup, need to avoid errors and keep a calm head if they want to go deep in the competition.

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