India lose 2-3 to champions Argentina

A stalwart Indian women’s hockey team squandered a one-goal lead to lose 2-3 to champions Argentina in the second leg of the FIH Pro League in Rotterdam on Sunday.

Argentina won the FIH Pro League title, finishing with 42 points from 16 games, 10 clear of second-placed Netherlands, who have two games left to play. India continued to be third in the standings in their debut season with 24 points in 12 games.

In Saturday’s opener, the Indians put in a spirited performance to stun Argentina 2-1 in the shootout after a 3-3 draw in regulation time. Their confidence skyrocketing after the tremendous victory the day before, India continued in the same vein and put pressure on the Argentine defense from the start.

Not just in attack, the Indians also produced a brilliant show in the backline, at least in the first two quarters with the defense led by Savita Punia thwarting a number of Argentine attacks. Both teams fought tooth and nail in the first quarter but couldn’t break the deadlock.

It was India who broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute, scoring through a counter-attack with Salima Tete showing her quick speed as she smashed through the Argentina defense before firing a shot that deflected off the opposing keeper’s stick Belen Succi.

Three minutes later, India goalkeeper Savita made a fine save to keep her team’s lead intact. A cross from the left found Julieta Jankunas in space and she tried to tap the ball in, but Savita quickly changed direction to make a terrific save. Subsequently, the Argentine took three shots on goal but failed to get past Savita.

After the switch, Argentina came on the offensive and controlled the game for much of the third quarter. The Indians struggled to keep pace with the Argentine players and the game was mostly centered inside the Indian half. In the 37th minute, Savita again came to the rescue of her team by sending Jankunas back from close range. But the Argentine was not to be denied a minute later when Delfine Thome did enough to curl the ball past a stretched Savita after it was set up by Sofia Toccalino’s brilliant run from the right flank.

India quickly earned a penalty corner but Udita squandered the chance. Argentina then scored twice in the space of three minutes from two corners to take a 3-1 lead. First Eugenia Trinchinetti scored from a fantastic variation in the 41st minute, then two minutes later last-game hat-trick scorer Agustina Gorzelany rang the board from another set piece.

But India were in no mood to give up without a fight as three minutes later Deep Grace Ekka scored from a fierce slap kick from a corner to make it 2-3. The Indians played their hearts out until the last whistle and in the 55th minute Vandana Katariya nearly restored parity after a counterattack but her reverse shot was saved by Succi.

The Indians will then face the United States on June 21 and 22.

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