The mind supported India but the heart was with Germany as the two battled it out for the bronze medal in the World Hockey League Final here on Sunday. India took the field with all 18 players fit while Germany had only 11 to put on the field as seven players were ruled out due to injury or high fever.
In the end, the material superiority of eight-time Olympic champions prevailed as India defeated the depleted but lion-hearted Germany 2-1 before a huge crowd at the Kalinga Stadium. India thus repeated the bronze medal they bagged in the previous edition in Raipur to end the year on a high note.
It wasn’t an easy task for world No 6 India against the four-time Olympic gold medallists and world no 5 Germany, though they had no players for substitutions. The Germans played a highly tactical game and put goalkeeper Mark Appel as the lone frontman with skipper Mats Grambusch taking on the role of a withdrawn forward.
Grambusch and Florian Fuchs ran circles around the Indian defenders while Constantin Staib, Martin Zwicker, Phillipp Huber and Johannes Grobe excelled at the back. The Germans fought with determination to stretch the Indian defence that looked like succumbing at times.
What was more heartening about this German team’s performance was that it was taking field less than 24 hours after playing a high-octane semi-final against Australia. And they played with only nine field players as two were goalkeepers – one in his traditional role and Appel as a forward.
India on the other hand took the field after a day’s rest as they played the semi-final on Friday. The hosts played well but must have capitalised on their chances better. After being thwarted for a full quarter, India opened the scoring when forward SV Sunil slotted home a rebound after Germany goalkeeper Tobais Walter blocked a shot by Akashdeep Singh from the left side of the shooting circle in the 21stminute (1-0).
India dominated possession but their usual weakness in the attacking third meant they could not translate the superiority into goals. Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep and SV Sunil got a number of opportunities but could not capitalise. Tobais Walter pulled off a number of good saves while the Indians wasted three of their four penalty corners.
Germany equalised in the 36th minute when Mark Appel pushed in a superb move created by Grambusch (1-all). Germany created some pressure in the third quarter and bagged a couple of penalty corners but failed to convert. In all, they wasted seven corners.
India came back strongly in the fourth quarter and sealed the issue when Harmanpreet Singh flicked home off their fourth penalty corner in the 54th minute. India had bagged three penalty corners in a two-minute period of sustained pressure and Harmanpreet did not make any mistake on the fourth (2-1).
Thereafter, the remaining six minutes witnessed attacks and counter attacks. For a while, Germany mounted some pressure and tried a few hits inside the circle but to no avail.
For India’s success, Odisha government presented each player a cheque of Rs 10 lakh.