Hockey Pro League Audacious skills on show as Spain turn tables on India

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Bhubaneswar, Feb 28

It was to be Spain's day in Bhubaneswar as the Red Sticks men and women's teams put in resilient performances to defeat the host nations in the second day of FIH Hockey Pro League, here on Sunday.

Both matches were fascinating and drama-filled. They also contained moments of magic that will remain long in the memory. Belen Igleisas' audacious lobbed goal is just one example of some of the tremendous skills and innovative play on display from these four teams.

But, at the end of the two days of top-notch hockey action it finished honours even, with India winning both matches on Saturday and the men's and women's teams of Spain showing their own star quality just 24 hours later.

India 3-4 Spain (women)
Spain started the first quarter in dominating fashion. Begona Garcia in particular seemed to be everywhere and her energetic running was rewarded with a goal in the fourth minute of the game.

At this stage, Spain were in the ascendancy and India seemed to be overwhelmed by the pace of the Red Stick's game.

That changed in the 10th minute when debutant Sangita Kumari showed her strength and ability to find the goal as she beat two defenders and then shot with precision to bring the scores level. For an athlete in her first senior match, Sangita showed some cool-headed skill.

The Garcia show continued as the quarter counted down. A clever ball into the circle by Georgina Oliva, who celebrated her 250th cap, found an Indian foot to win a penalty corner. Following the initial shot, it was Maialen Garcia who deflected the penalty corner shot into the goal to restore the Spanish lead.

Salima Tete answered Head Coach Janneke Schopman's request for speedier play. The forward brought the scores level as she burst forwards into the Spain circle and unleashed a reverse stick shot that proved unstoppable.

Just two minutes later, in the 24th minute, we saw the moment of the match as Belen Iglesias used tremendous skill and vision to lob the ball over Savita's head, into the goal.

Spain had the chance to extend their lead in the third quarter when a push on Maria Lopez in the India defensive circle led to a penalty stroke to the Red Sticks. Savita, in the India goal, has been excellent all weekend and she came to her team's rescue as she saved the resulting shot from Laura Barrios.

The fourth quarter was much of the same. High tempo passing and incredible skill levels were on display from both teams, but the next blood was India's. A melee in the Spanish circle saw the ball bounce loose. Namita Toppo stretched her arm out and somehow managed to pick the ball from the air and fire it through a clustered defence to score her team's third goal.

The result means India are in third position in the league table behind Argentina and Netherlands. Spain, with a win and a draw are in fifth place, just behind Belgium.

India 3-5 Spain (men)
If anyone thought the two protagonists in this match would be taking their collective foot off the accelerator, then the first quarter would quickly disprove that theory.

India took a lead in the sixth minute through Abhishek; the striker running the backline and then flicking past Adrian Rafi. Eight minutes later, Pau Cunill scored from Spain's first penalty corner in the 14th minute and just seconds later eventual Player of the Match Joan Tarres looked almost casual as he struck an upright, reverse stick shot past Suraj Karkera in the India goal to put Spain ahead as they went into the break.

A rocket from Pau Cunill was the first score of the second quarter and it was against the run of play as India had enjoyed more possession and more meaningful attacks to that point. But Cunill's shot was accomplished and confident as it flew past PR Sreejesh in the India goal. Sreejesh was celebrating his 250th match for India and this was not the way he would want to remember the occasion.

India responded through Harmanpreet Singh, again from a polished penalty corner routine. The goal makes Harmanpreet the first player to reach double figures in this year's goal scoring tally.

With the score at 3-2, the second half was all set to mimic, if not exceed, the excitement and drama of the previous day's action.

The third quarter was intense but neither side managed to find a goal-scoring breakthrough, although India were definitely playing with more energy and ideas than their European counterparts. The question was whether Max Caldas' men could hold onto the lead and, if possible, extend it.

The answer came with nine minutes left on the clock. Sukhjeet Singh, who was playing his first senior game, made the dream start on his debut, dribbling through the Spanish defenders before slotting the ball home to bring the scores level. For the Spanish team, the spectre of once again losing in the final moments was looming large.


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