Olympic bronze medalist India registered a 3-2 win over South Africa to qualify for the men’s hockey final of the Commonwealth Games here on Saturday. Abhishek (20th), Mandeep Singh (28th) and Jugraj Singh (58th) scored for India, while Ryan Julius (33rd) and Mustafa Qasim (59th) scored for South Africa. Form and rankings wise, it was expected to be an easy move for India but it did not happen courtesy of South African mentor Govan Jones, who put up a stellar performance under the bar.
Had it not been for Jones’ stellar performance, the score-line could have been huge in favor of the Indians.
The Indians were aggressive with word go and dominate possession for the majority of the first two quarters.
India had plenty of circle entry and chances in the first quarter, but they didn’t get the goal with Jones standing like a rock in front of the goal.
He denied India’s star drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh converting four penalty corners in the first half to prop up his side in the game.
Jones’ anticipation and reflexes were worth watching as he made save after save.
Not only the penalty corners, Jones was also solid in front of the goal from open play as he intercepted Shamsher Singh’s attempt from close range in the 10th minute after it was set up by Akashdeep Singh.
Seconds later, Jones saved another surprise reflex to deny Akashdeep.
South Africa found some momentum in the second quarter and got three penalty corners, but India’s reserve goalkeeper Krishna Bahadur Pathak did the job.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 20th minute when Abhishek scored with a forceful reverse hit from the top of the circle to finally beat Jones.
A few minutes later, Jones once again came to the rescue of his side, intercepting Amit Rohidas’s fierce shot and then blocking Akashdeep’s reverse shot.
But the Indian team doubled their lead in the 28th minute with the help of Mandeep, who scored a good goal from the hands of Gurjant Singh. India got another penalty corner two minutes after changing ends but it was wasted.
South Africa looked more determined after the change of ends and narrowed the gap three minutes after the restart through Julius, who scored a rebound from a penalty corner.
Jones was in excellent form by saving Abhishek in the 38th minute.
South Africa were not to bow down as they entered the Indian circle every now and then and got some penalty corners but failed to breach the defence.
In the 41st minute, Jones made another scintillating save as Jarmanpreet Singh’s effort was thrown out of India’s sixth set.
In the final quarter, India tried to play a game of possession and focused on the defense as South Africa fought hard.
India’s move worked perfectly as they managed to catch South Africa’s forward press.
With four minutes to go, South took Jones back and India gave Jugraj a chance to extend their lead with a home slamming from a penalty corner.
The Africans threatened India when Qasim scored with a reverse hit to score 3-2.
However, the Indians managed to maintain their lead after the 2014 edition to seal the final berth, where they finished second only to Australia.
India will take on the winner of the second semi-final between Australia and England in the final on Sunday. PTI SSC SSC KHS KHS
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