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India steal place in last four

July 06, 2005 20:44 IST
Last Updated: July 06, 2005 23:17 IST

India entered the semi-finals in the men's Junior World Cup hockey tournament after scoring a solitary goal victory over England in their concluding league match in Rotterdam on Wednesday.

In a pulsating encounter, the defending champions had a better share of the exchanges but had to hang on to a 27th minute goal that Sandeep Singh scored from a penalty-corner to clinch victory.

India and Spain finished with 12 points and a goal difference of five, but India went through because of a higher number of goals scored, 12 against Spain's 10.

Earlier, Argentina made the best of an injury-hit opposition to beat Australia 3-1 and advance to the semi-finals.

The victory took Argentina, runners-up to India in the 2001 edition, to the top of Pool F with 11 points, while Australia, who had already qualified for the knock-out round, finished second with 10. It was Australia's first defeat in the tournament.

The semi-finals are on Friday after Thursday's rest day.

In Wednesday's other completed matches at the time of writing, Poland and Mexico drew 4-4, South Africa whipped Chile 7-0 and Pakistan beat Malaysia 2-1.

Lucas Vila played a key role in Argentina's victory, scoring two goals (30th, 53rd minutes) while Manuel Brunet knocked in the third in the 69th.

The Aussies, struggling with injuries to a couple of key players and opting to rest centre-half Ian Smyth, did not display their usual determination and aggression. It was a ragged performance from the Aussies, hitherto unbeaten, and even Iain Davidson's 49th minute penalty-corner goal did not lift their game.

Australia coach Mark Hager admitted as much.

"We did not have the focus today. The fact that we had already qualified for the semi-finals was perhaps a downer. We rested Smyth and also wanted to bench a few other players. But then, a couple of the boys suffered injuries during the game today and we had to reorganise our structure," he said.

So much so that Australia's top scorer, Colin Hennessey was shifted to left-back position, where he looked distinctly uncomfortable and was easily passed by the fast moving Argentine forwards.

"As badly as we played today, I think, you need to appreciate the fact that Argentina defended and attacked well. However, I am sure that our boys will get their focus back for Friday's semi-finals," added Hager.

Argentina coach Pablo Lombi, the elder brother of Jorge, the penalty-corner specialist in their senior team, could barely contain his excitement.

"I thought we played extremely well today. The players were under pressure to win today as it was the only way we could qualify for the semi-finals. I am very happy that we came through against such a great side as Australia," said Lombi, who, incidentally had scored the equaliser that upset India's campaign in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Needing a victory in their concluding Pool F fixture, Argentina made their intentions clear by going on the attack from the start.

The Aussies were clearly rattled by this burst of sustained aggression and their defence committed uncharacteristic mistakes for which the team was punished.

The usually reliable goalkeeper David Reid could have prevented two of the three goals, but lack of judgment and slow movement cost his team dear.

"Reid was unusually slack today, but rest assured, we will be back on top of our game for the semi-finals," said Hager.

A last minute penalty-corner conversion by Adnan Zakir Muhammad helped Pakistan snatch a 2-1 win over Malaysia in a Pool F match.

The teams were tied 1-1 after Zulkifli Mohd Reza converted his 12th penalty-corner of the tournament for Malaysia in the 12th minute and Pakistan equalised in the 18th minute from Ahmed Iklaq's conversion.

Pakistan finished their league campaign with seven points and will now play for 5-8 positions.

Malaysia, on the other hand, ended with one point and fight it out for 9-12 placings.

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