Johor Bahru (Malaysia), Oct 19: Drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh’s brace helped the Indian Under-21 hockey team successfully defend their Sultan of Johor Cup title by defeating Great Britain 2-1 in the final here Sunday. Continuing his prime form, Harmanpreet scored in the 46th and 70th minutes while Great Britain’s solitary goal came from the stick of Samuel French (55th minute) at the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium.
Both the teams started the game aggressively, peppering each other’s defence regularly. But goalkeepers Abhinav Pandey of India and Harry Gibson of Great Britain were alert to defend their respective citadels. The Harendra Singh-coached Indian team staved off the threat early on posed by livewire striker Benjamin Boon, who twice attempted at the Indian post — one was negated by defender Jarmanpreet Singh while the other was denied by Pandey.
The first half, though closely-fought, saw both the team missing several close chances. The second half also began on a similar note but India, featuring in their third consecutive final here, played with more intent and especially the Indian forwards began to show more accuracy in their attack. Results showed 10 minutes later when Parvinder Singh played the ball to the legs of an opponent defender to earn India a penalty corner.
Harmanpreet, who scored two hat-tricks against Malaysia and Australia in earlier matches, made no mistake in sweeping the ball past the rival keeper, drawing first blood. Great Britain, who defeated India 2-0 in the league game earlier, came back strongly to reduce the deficit with a successful penalty corner conversion by French, who fired a sharp grounder past the Indian wall.
Later, Great Britain mounted further pressure on India and skipper Harjeet Singh, later awarded the most promising player of the tournament, was called on to defend a goal from the edge of the post in the 62nd minute. Both teams tried to edge ahead but failed to do so till India earned another short corner in a speedy counter-attacking play in the last minute. Harmanpreet again rose to the occasion to score at the dead end to help his team emulate the Manpreet Singh-led side’s victory in 2013.
Earlier in the bronze-medal match, Australia hammered New Zealand 6-2. Malaysia shocked Pakistan 3-1 to take fifth place. With nine goals in the tournament, Harmanpreet emerged as the highest goal-scorer and was also declared Man of the Tournament.