Raipur: India came out with a stupendous and thrilling performance to defeat Great Britain 2-1 for the first time in 35 years to enter the semifinals of the prestigious year-ending Hockey World League (HWL) Final at the Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel International Stadium here on Thursday.
Backed by a vociferous crowd, India managed to hold off Great Britain in the quarterfinal with the two goals of V.R. Raghunath and Talwinder Singh. Simon Mantell scored the lone goal for the visiting team, who suffered their first loss of the eight-team tournament.
India will now play the semifinal on Saturday against the winner of the quarterfinal between Argentina and Belgium.
Overall, Great Britain created far more chances than the hosts, who had not had any success in the tournament yet. The Britons had more than twice the number of penetrations in the striking circle than India. They had six penalty corner opportunities, with only one paying off, compared to India's one. But India did what was necessary on the day.
The start was exciting as both teams pressed hard, trying to enter the striking zones. Defender Devinder Walmiki had an excellent run in the eighth minute when he ran the entire stretch of the pitch to reach the British D.
However, his run even outpaced his teammates and he was left with no option to pass.
Bobby Crutchley's boys retaliated in the next minute by earning a penalty corner which Ian Sloan flicked right into the chest of India goalie P.R. Sreejesh.
A one-two between India captain Sardar Singh and Akashdeep Singh created another chance but the British defence held fort. India attacked again as Talwinder saw a brilliant chance, but was kept out by Chris Grassick.
Just when it was looking as if the game was slowing down in the second quarter, India took the crucial lead (19th minute) when Raghunath successfully converted a penalty corner to score his first goal of the tournament.
The goal upped the ante and the cheering crowd witnessed some fast paced hockey. Sreejesh was in his elements on the day as he made a couple of difficult saves, helping India to go into halftime with the lead.
India had one of their best chances in the 35th minute when a brilliant ball by Akashdeep was pushed to Ramandeep Singh, whose reverse-flick painfully only managed to hit the bar.
The hosts had to wait for only four more minutes when an intelligent scoop from Chinglensana Singh was collected by Talwinder. The forward drew the British keeper out of the goal and fired in the ball from a very wide but tight angle.
The ball hit its mark to give India a 2-0 lead (39th) and Talwinder one of the best goals of the tournament.
Great Britain went all out in the remaining 20 odd minutes, earning as many as four penalty corners. However, their nerves proved weak as they hardly managed to stop the ball in the corners, let alone take the shot.
India, on the counter-attack, also wasted several chances in the tension and excitement.
The visitors finally managed to draw one back (52nd) when Mantell scored from a broken penalty corner.
In desperate situation, Great Britain played the last five minutes without any keeper, bringing in an outfield player to replace the goalie. But that proved unfruitful as India managed to hold on to their one goal lead and clinch the victory.