Varun Kumar’s hat-trcik went in vain as Indian men’s team went down 4-3 in a penalty shoot out to Victoria Vikings in the semi-final of the Australian Hockey League, here on Friday.
Down 0-3, the Indian colts made a strong comeback, courtesy a hat-trick from Varun to take the game into a shootout after regulation time.
The two teams were the ones with the strongest defences in the pool stages, India conceding seven goals, and Victoria nine.
In the first quarter both teams focussed on organising their defence and controlling the midfield.
Locked in a stalemate after the first quarter, the Vikings were the ones to strike first when Chris Ciriello converting a penalty corner in the 20th minute.
Two minutes later Aaron Kleinschmidt took advantage of a goalmouth melee to double Vikings’ lead.
India secured a penalty corner soon but Varun’s flick was smartly parried away by Durst Johan in the Vikings goal.
In the final minute of the quarter, Ciriello scored his second penalty corner of the game to give Victoria a 3-0 lead heading into halftime.
India had several chances to pull a goal back in the third quarter but to no avail.
A brilliant passing move at the top of the Victorian circle saw Ajit Pandey drag his shot high.
Minutes later Durst was in action again, pulling off a smart save from Anand Lakra’s bursting run and shot from the top of the circle. Off the rebound, Durst smothered Parvinder Singh’s shot illegally, which earned India a penalty corner but Victoria saved the first attempt, but were penalised with another.
Varun missed his drag-flick but improvised with the loose ball to score and open India’s account in the game.
The teams went into the final break with India trailing 1-3. .Simranjeet Singh’s green card early in the final quarter handed India a disadvantage, but it didn’t matter as they pushed forward in search of goals to get back into the game.
Armaan Qureshi came closest after picking up a pass from Dipsan Tirkey inside the circle and turnin, only to shoot wide.With six minutes left in the game, India won another penalty corner and this time Varun didn’t need a second invitation, dragging his shot perfectly into the bottom left corner, to reduce the margin to 2-3.
With the momentum having shifted, India started pushing for the equaliser and won another penalty corner in the 56th minute. Varun made no mistake, slotting it into the bottom corner again to drag India level.
Victoria went a man down in the final minutes courtesy Tim Cross’s yellow card and the juniors made the most of the numerical advantage, constantly attacking the Vikings circle.
With a minute to go, Harjeet Singh had a shot from the top of the box, but Durst parried it away. It was to be the final bit of action as the two teams went into a shootout for a place in the final.