India’s semi-final hopes virtually went up in smoke after Spain spanked them 5-2 in a crucial Pool B match of the hockey World Cup on Thursday.
The comprehensive defeat leaves India with no other option but to win both their remaining matches against England and South Africa and then pray that outcome of other matches also go in their favour.
For Spain, Paul Quemada (41st minute, 67th) struck twice while Albert Sala (19th minute), captain Pol Amat (35th) and Ramon Alegre (42nd) were the other goal-getters.
Sandeep Singh (39th) and Gurvinder Singh Chandi (43rd) scored the consolation goals for India.
In the do-or-die battle, the Indians had numerous chances to score but the strikers let the side down.
The mid-field once again sparkled but the defence wore a sorry look, committing blunders at crucial junctures, which eventually put paid to their hopes.
The match started on a fast note with the ball travelling from one end to the other right from the onset. Spain, however, was the more dominant force as they earned four scoring chances in the first 20 minutes.
The Spaniards got their first scoring chance in the second minute but skipper Pol Amat’s reverse stick shot from inside the circle went wide.
Seven minutes later Xavi Lleonart was guilty of missing the target from a close range.
Spain’s constant pressure earned them their first penalty corner in the 11th minute but the Olympic silver medallist team could not convert it.
But a few minutes later, the Spaniard’s went ahead, courtesy a lapse in concentration from Sandeep Singh.
Albert Sala scored with a fierce shot from the top of the circle after Sandeep had lost the ball in the mid-field.
Down by a goal, India pressed hard for the equaliser and got plenty of chances to score but the experienced forward line of Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh lacked finishing.
India earned a penalty corner in the 24th minute of the match but Sandeep failed to convert as Spanish goalkeeper Francisco Cortes’ brilliance saved his team.
Cortes made back-to-back saves – first stopping Sandeep’s flick and then kept away the rebound from Sardar Singh.
With nine minutes to go for the interval, Deepak missed a sitter, failing to connect the ball with only the Spanish custodian to beat.
Spain compounded the home team’s woes just at the stroke of the half time with an unmarked Pol Amat doubling the lead from a quick Alex Fabregas cross.
Two goals down, the Indians came all out attacking in the second session and earned their second penalty corner of the match. This time Sandeep made no mistake as his low flick found the back of the Spanish net to reduce the margin for the hosts.
But India’s joy was short-lived as Spain pumped in back-to-back goals, much to the disappointment of the cheering crowd.
The Indians pulled another back a minute later through Chandi, who score his first international goal from a Tushar Khandekar cross from the right.
Apart from the one strike at goal, Sandeep had a bad day in office as he squandered as many as three short corners to sum up India’s day.
In the final five minutes of the match, India got their sixth short corner but as luck would have it, Dhananjay Mahadik failed to stop the push and the effort on rebound from Khandekar was saved by an agile Cortes.
To add salt to India’s wound, Spain scored another three minutes from the hooter through Quemada from a set piece.
India will next play unbeaten England on Saturday while Spain will be up against title favourites Australia.(PTI)