Potchefstroom (South Africa): Olympic bronze medalists India put on a shoddy performance losing 2-5 to lower-ranked France in the second game of the FIH Hockey Pro League two-legged game here on Saturday.
India started the game as clear favorites after taking convincing wins so far – 5-0 against France and 10-2 against South Africa – in the FIH Pro League.
But France had other plans on Saturday and won in all aspects of the game.
The Indians came off the blocks slowly, but gained confidence as the game progressed.
While France enjoyed the early exchanges, India controlled proceedings afterward, but both teams failed to create a real goal-scoring opportunity.
A minute into the second quarter, India scored the first penalty corner of the match, but a bad kick didn’t give Harmanpreet Singh a shot on goal.
France caught the Indian defense by surprise in the next move, earning a penalty stroke which was converted beautifully by Victor Charlet.
Baffled by the French, India upped the ante and secured their second penalty corner in the 21st minute, but French goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry made a brilliant save from young Jugraj Singh.
But India tied the score in the next minute when a cross by Jarmanpreet Singh from the right went into the French goal after a deflection from Stanislas Branicki’s sticks.
The French seemed more goal-oriented after the change of half, creating back-to-back penalty corners in the 32nd minute, but failed to capitalize on those opportunities.
France continued their attacking play and regained their lead in the 35th minute via Viktor Lockwood, whose powerful shot from the left corner went through the legs of experienced goalkeeper PR Sreejesh into the Indian net.
Another goal behind, the Indians attacked and kept up the pressure on the French defense but failed to break it.
India had their chances and made five penalty corners in the third quarter, three in a row in the 44th minute, but made a mistake in the execution.
France extended their lead from their third penalty corner in the 48th minute with a variational attack from Charles Masson.
India put in two more penalty corners, but the likes of Harmanpreet, Jugraj and Varun Kumar struggled to get past the French defence, which were led brilliantly by goalkeeper Thieffry.
India withdrew one in the 57th minute due to a penalty stroke conversion by Harmanpreet Singh.
Pumped up by the goal, the Indians increased the pressure and got two more penalty corners, but France defended in numbers.
To add to India’s woes, world No. 13 France scored two more goals in the final two minutes of the game — first via a penalty corner conversion from Charlet and then a field attack by Timoth e Clement.
India’s mediocre performance can be summed up by the fact that they earned a whopping 10 penalty corners, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
India then plays against South Africa in the second FIH Pro League game between the two sides here on Sunday.
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