India reclaimed the bronze medal at the Hockey World League (HWL) Final after eking out a close 2-1 win over a depleted but spirited Germany in the third-fourth place classification match on Sunday in Bhubaneswar. It was always going to be a David vs Goliath task for Germany as they were already a depleted side before the start of the start of the match having lost five players to illness and injuries.
For the Germans, who had 13 players at its disposal in the semi-final against Australia yesterday, it became bad to worse as they had just 11 players to play with, including reserve goalkeeper Mark Appel, in the bronze medal match after two more players fell ill.
But Germany dished out a lion-hearted performance and not only restricted the margin to 2-1 but also gave India the India defence a run for their money with as many as 13 shots at the goal as against the home teams 12.
The Germans also had more penalty corners than India as they secured seven as against the hosts four.
They might be down with a number of players, but the Germans once again produced structured hockey and not only held the attack for 21 minutes but also managed to sneak in a goal.
The Indians were lacklustre and below-par today and had it been a full strength German side the script of the match could very well have been different.
Indian took the lead in the 21st minute through SV Sunil before Germany equalised through its reserve custodian Mark Appel (36th). A penalty corner conversion by Harmanpreet Singh in the 54th minute sealed the win and the third place for the Indians.
India had also won the bronze in the last edition of the tournament in Raipur in 2015.
The Germans showed great determination and fighting spirit to not only hold India but also create more and better opportunities in the first quarter.
Germany did not give India any clear-cut chance but created a few and also secured the first penalty corner of the first quarter in the 14th minute but it was well defended by the Indians.
Soon after Germany captain Mark Grambusch, who himself played with fever, got a good opportunity but his shot from the left side was just wide of the target.
The determined Germans continued in the same vein and earned two more penalty corners in the 19th minute but Indian goalkeeper Suraj Karkera made valiant saves to keep a clean slate for the hosts.
In the very next minute, Germany got another short corner but the script turned out to be the same as Niklas Bruns failed to get the better of Karkera once again.
But an opportunist India took the lead in the very next move against the run of play when Sunil scored from a rebound.
It was set up by Harmanpreet Singh's defence-splitting ball to Akashdeep Singh inside the D but his reverse shot was saved by German custodian Tobias Hauke and from the resultant rebound, Sunil scored to give India the lead.
Despite playing with only 11 players and one goal down, the Germans kept up the pressure on the Indian defence and in the process secured two more penalty corners in quick succession before half-time but they failed to make use of the chances.
India had the first shot at the goal after the change of ends but Akashdeep's shot in the 33rd minute was kept away by Hauke.
The Germans showed they are not here to just make numbers and entertain the crowd as they stunned India three minutes later when their reserve goalkeeper Mark Appel, who played as a striker today because of illness to a number of teammates, tapped in skipper Mark Grambuschs pass to draw parity.
India secured three back-to-back penalty corners in a span of two minutes the last of which was converted by Harmanpreet with a powerful, low grounded flick to take the lead which they managed to hold on despite last-ditch efforts from the Germans who failed to utilise another penalty corner in the dying minutes of the match.
(With PTI Inputs)