India beat SA 1-0, finish 11th, qualify for Champions Challenge
Monchengladbach, Sep 17: India tasted victory at last as they downed South Africa 1-0 to finish last but one in the Hockey World Cup here today and in the process qualified for next year's Champion Challenge cup.
This was India's first and only win and they earned the dubious distinction of finishing 11th in the 11th edition of the World Cup.
There previous worst showing had been in 1986 in London where they had ended with a wooden spoon.
India has twice finished tenth (1990,2002) and once ended at ninth place (1998), thus it is the first that they have taken the 11th slot in the World Cup.
The only silver lining, if at all one, in this win was that India will now play in the Champions Challenge cup to be held in Boom, Belgium from June 23 to July 1 next year and get a chance to try and qualify for the 2008 Champions Trophy.
On a cold and gloomy morning India made heavy weather of their solitary goal win over South Africa, with the all important goal being scored by Rajpal Singh off a penalty corner rebound in the 54th minute.
The Indians were overwhelmingly superior to their African rivals but made hash of some of the easiest possible chances. The forwards tried to be individualistic, tended to play for the galleries and held on to the ball for to long. Some good solo runs down the flanks were made but they were foiled by the African defenders.
Indian conceded far too much open space to the rivals who took advantage of the situation and made couple of good sorties, which put pressure on the defence, but they also lacked fire power.
The winners started with 5-3-2-1 combination, but were without striker Gagan Ajit who is still on the sick list. The defence was manned by Dilip Tirkey and Viren Rasquinha. Other defender Raghunath, had a stiff leg so he played for few minutes.
The Indians had the South Africans at their mercy but could not convert the advantage they enjoyed into the goal. The forwards kept the flanks moving with Shivendra Singh and Rajpal Singh combing well. Tushar Khandekar was as usual hard working while Hari Prasad and Tejbir created some good opening but the poor finish undid all their good work.
The Indians forced six penalty, two in first half and four in the next, but could make use of only one. Their attack lacked sharpness and though coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran expressed satisfaction with their showing, but they still left lot to be desired. At this level of competition no team can miss even half chances but Indians missed open chances.
The winners earned their first penalty corner in the 12th minute but Dilip Tirkey's powerful shot just missed the target and the South African launched a counter attack which fetched them their only penalty corner of the match but goal keeper Adrian D'souza brought off a good save.
The Indian counter followed and Viren Rasquinha made a brave bid but he was foiled in the circle by the defenders and then Shivendera Singh failed to connect a cross from the right in front of the goal and a minute before the breather, Dilip Tirkey's powerful penalty corner drive was blocked by goal keeper Chris Hibbert.
The second half also saw Indian dictating the proceedings but kept on muffing the chances. Shivendra Singh had an open goal before him but he just hit straight into the goal keeper. Then two penalty corners were muffed in quick succession adding to India's discomfort.
However the deadlock was broken in the 54th minute when India got their fifth penalty corner and Dilip Tirkey instead of taking the direct crack relayed the ball to Rajpal Singh who deflected the ball home much to the relief of the fans and supporters in the stand.
Three minutes later another penalty corner came India's way and this time Tirkey pushed the ball towards Shivendra Singh whose shot hit the post.
The Indian offensive continued but the lack of finishing prevented them from increasing their goal tally. Two minutes before the final hooter, Tejbir had a open goal before him but he blasted his way wide out.
Coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran looked relieved after this win.
''It is good to win, the boys came up with good hockey,'' he said adding, ''we should have scored more goals.'' ''Forwards snatched the ball from their rivals but held on to it, for too long and also we need to improve our penalty corner conversions,'' he said adding, ''though we have not qualified for Champions Trophy, we get a chance to make it in the 2008 because this win has enabled us to qualify for the Champions challenge.''