India managed to play a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands in their final round-robin game on Saturday to set-up the Hockey Champions Trophy final against Australia. Mandeep Singh (47th minute) scored for second-placed India, while Thiery Brinkmann (55th) scored for the third-placed Netherlands as the two teams ended the round-robin stage with eight and seven points respectively. The Netherlands will meet Olympic champions Argentina in the bronze-medal playoff on Sunday after the South Americans defeated Australia 3-1 to take their points tally to seven -- same as the European team. But Argentina are in the fourth spot due to an inferior goal difference. Australia topped the table with 10 points.
The final will be a repeat of the 2016 edition when Australia got the better of India via a controversial penalty shootout. India needed at least a draw against the Dutch to keep the opponent away from the place in the final.
Both teams showed urgency but India created a goal-scoring opportunity first with youngster Dilpreet Singh making the right call to ask for a video referral. The video umpire ruled in India' favour for a dangerous ball in the striking circle, though Harmanpreet Singh's powerful flick was brilliantly parried away by Dutch goalkeeper Sam van der Ven.
Immediately though, the home team launched a quick-fire counter with Seve van Ass taking a shot on goal. But with an in-form PR Sreejesh continuing his outstanding form at the goalpost made it difficult for the Dutch to convert.
India won their second penalty corner, thanks to Dilpreet again, but a variation saw Harmanpreet pass the ball to Varun Kumar after Sardar's injection but Varun couldn't get a strong push which was cleared quite effortlessly by the Dutch goalkeeper.
Though India gave away three penalty corners by halftime, with no score on the board for either teams. The visitors' defence was compact, very alert and yet again had Sreejesh standout.
One of his best saves was when Jorrit Croon stole the ball from India's midfield to launch a swift counter, beating a fleet of Indian defenders to make it to their striking circle only to find a perfect pass to Thijs van Dam. But his shot was excellently saved by Sreejesh who remained the cynosure in India's defence.
With a goalless scoreboard, the third quarter was crucial. The Netherlands dominated with ball possession, making 20 circle entries and took six shots on goal. While India had made just 12 circle entries with four shots on goal.
India's backline continued to play to structure, with some clever defending while India had a better-coordinated move up front with Sunil and Mandeep working in tandem but could not muster a goal in the third quarter.
India, however, opened the fourth quarter with all guns firing. The efforts won them their third penalty corner of the match in the opening minute. Though Harmanpreet's flick rebounded off the Dutch goalkeeper, Mandeep moved up front swiftly to put the ball into the goal and fetched his team the much-needed 1-0 lead in the 47th minute.
With time ticking away, Dutch fans rallied behind their home team with encouraging cheers. The home support worked with Brinkman working a stupendous goal from the baseline, beating Amit Rohidas's block to put the ball past Sreejesh and equalise.
With India needing a draw to make the final, it was a defensive, tactical battle for them. The Netherlands increased their pace in counters to put the Indian defence under stress.
Jeroen Hertzberger was the one to test the defenders with a splendid shot on goal but Sreejesh's diving effort averted the threat and Harmanpreet ensured they steered clear.
But Hertzberger's next attempt was simply unstoppable when he put the ball past Sreejesh but the Netherlands' 2-1 lead was denied by the umpires when it was ruled that the free hit just before Hertzberger's shot on goal was not taken as per the rules.
With just a little over a minute left for the final hooter, the Dutch won three back-to-back penalty corners but India held their nerves to avert the danger and seal the match with a 1-1 draw and place in the Final against Australia.