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Netherlands 3, India 2. It's a painfully familiar scoreline. The last time it happened in a major hockey tournament was at the London Olympics last year. India never recovered from that deflating loss and went on to finish bottom of the heap.
Chances are, Friday's defeat to the Dutch in the opener notwithstanding, Manpreet Singh & Co. will still go very far into the Junior Hockey World Cup. In order to do so, however, they will have to significantly raise their performance — at least from what they showed in the first half on Friday.
On a cold evening at the National Stadium, India took too long to hit their stride, by which time, at the end of 35 minutes, they were overrun by the Dutch. The first goal, which came in the 3rd minute, summed it all up.
Tom Hiebendaal received the ball on the right flank just outside the 25-yard line and dribbled past Kothajit Singh, Mandeep Singh and Pradeep Mor in a manner as if he was up against not under-21 internationals but schoolboys. One on one with Indian goalkeeper Harjot Singh, Hiebendaal passed the ball to Milan van Baal, who slotted the ball home from point-blank range.
Rattled, India hit back: First with a penalty corner, which was wasted, then with a stick to the head of van Baal by Amit Rohidas as blood came gushing out from the Dutch scorer's forehead. Rohidas was lucky not to receive a yellow card, but it set the tone for an intensely physical match.
India drew parity soon, however, with Gurjinder Singh producing an unstoppable drag-flick that beat the Dutch goalie all ends up. The penalty corner had come after Akashdeep Singh had created a flutter in the Netherlands circle with sublime stick work. Easily India's best player on the pitch, the young Akashdeep was to contribute once more later in the match.