India wasted a dozen penalty-corners before going down 1-2 to Argentina in a crucial match of the Champions Challenge men's hockey tournament in Boom, Belgium, on Thursday.
Jorge Lombi (39th minute) and skipper Mario Nicolas Almada (60th) scored for Argentina, while Sandeep Singh got India's only goal from a penalty-stroke in the 64th minute.
India, thus, remain on six points after four matches while Argentina have nine after three victories and a defeat.
The Indians had more than their share of chances, but were not sharp enough to capitalise on them. To make matters worse, a terrible defensive blunder late in the game presented Argentina their second goal that effectively sealed the match.
Ironically, Sandeep Singh spent more time on the bench and was not on hand for India's first six penalty-corners. When he did return to the field, he failed to score off the next six.
The Indians all but outplayed Argentina in the first-half, though in terms of scoring opportunities, there were very few. However, it was more a tactical game that saw them containing Argentina in their own half.
Consequently, Argentina had to wait for opportunities to even make a move, leave alone penetrate into the Indian circle. The South American outfit did put together a couple of counter-attacks that fetched them penalty-corners, but the Indian goal was not in any danger of falling.
At the other end, the Indians made plenty of moves to keep Argentina under pressure. However, the old failings of faulty trapping and passing inside the 25-yard area and, especially the striking circle, denied them success.
Coach Joaquim Carvalho kept shuffling his forwards while leaving the deep defence and midfield virtually untouched with the exception of substituting Sandeep Singh. Thus, the Indians were able to sustain pace and pressure through the session.
India did force three penalty corners, one of which was changed to a bully-off on the 25-yard line following protests by Argentine players.
Umpire James Pilgrim (England) first awarded a penalty-corner, but even as the Indians took position, he reversed his decision to a 16-yard hit, leading to chaotic scenes on the field and a time-out. The other umpire, Chen Dekang of China, intervened and signaled a penalty-corner, but Pilgrim stuck to his guns and ordered a bully-off.
Thereafter, India received their third penalty-corner, and again specialist Sandeep Singh was still on the bench. Dilip Tirkey's direct hit was easily saved as was the case with the first.
Then came India's best scoring chance when Roshan Minz intercepted a 16-yard hit and passed to Shivendra Singh on his left. Entering the circle, Shivendra let fly the ball with the rival goalkeeper at his mercy, but he shot wide much to Argentina's relief.
Four minutes into the second-half, Argentina struck from their very first move that led to a penalty-corner. Lombi was on target with a powerful drag-flick to the right of goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza.
The goal triggered a furious Indian onslaught as the pace of the game noticeably picked up. Sardar Singh was brought down inside the 25-yard and India were awarded their fourth penalty-corner in the 45th minute.
Dilip Tirkey took a powerful hit that apparently struck a defender's foot. India appealed for a penalty-stroke, but umpire Dekang after first signaling a long corner, changed the decision to a penalty-corner that proved abortive.
India maintained the pressure, but a sixth penalty-corner was lost even as Sandeep Singh was warming up on the sidelines. But when he did get a chance to execute his drag-flick in the 54th, he was wide off the mark.
With the time ticking by, India's task appeared Herculean as Argentina struck again in the 60th minute through Almada following a lightning counter-attack that began from their own 25-yard area. Matias Rey got past Prabodh Tirkey but lost the ball. Dilip Tirkey failed to clear and Rey recovered to pass the ball to Almada to do the rest.
India forced two more penalty-corners. Off the second, Sandeep's drag-flick struck a defender on the foot leading to a penalty-stroke. He converted it to make the score 2-1 with six minutes left.
Past the 66th minute, India earned two more penalty-corners, but Sandeep failed on both occasions. Soon after, Argentina were reduced to 10 men as Almada left the field on a yellow card suspension for misconduct.
Argentina, however, managed to survive the final moments despite conceding the 12th penalty-corner to pick up three points that took them closer to the final.
The tournament takes yet another break tomorrow. India's next and final league match is against Japan on Saturday at 1715 IST following the New Zealand-Argentina game.
England beat Japan for first victory
England rallied to beat Japan 4-3 and post their first victory in four matches.
England did well to shake off their first-half lethargy and displayed appreciable fluency to overcome their Asian rivals with goals by Richard Mantell (29th minute), Richard Alexander (50th), Jonty Clarke (61st) and Rob Moore (66th).
The Japanese fought till the end as Takahiko Yamabori (10th, 70th), Yoshihiro Anai (59th) scored.
England have three points, the same as Japan, but neither team is now in contention for top honours.