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Friday turned out to be a lucky day for Harjeet Singh and Co as, backed by the thunderous cheers of more than 15,000 spectators at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, India stormed into the final of the Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup with a 4-2 victory over powerhouse Australia in shootout.
The teams were locked in a 2-2 stalemate at the end of regulation time, but in the shootout, Vikas Dahiya came up with a stunning display of goalkeeping to ensure India’s entry into the title round for the third time.
India will take on Belgium, who shocked six-time winners and defending champions Germany 4-3 in another nerve-wracking shootout, on Sunday. The last time India won the title was in 2001 and if they win on Sunday, it will be after a 15-year gap that they will be lifting the prestigious trophy.
The win also helped Harjeet and boys avenge the defeat at the hands of Australia in the final of the 1997 edition at Milton Keynes. Before losing to Spain in the bronze-medal tie in 2005, India had lost to Australia in the semifinal at Rotterdam. India have taken their head-to-head record against Australia since 2014 to 4-1.
Before the start of the semifinal, India’s goalkeeping coach Romeo James had a 15-minute chat with Dahiya, and that seems to have worked for the goalkeeper. The lanky boy was outstanding under the bar and twice he denied scoring chances to Matthew Bird and Lachlan Sharp, which made the difference in the end.
Despite conceding an early goal in the 14th minute to Tom Craig, Harendra Singh’s boys didn’t lose confidence and scored back-to-back goals through Gurjant Singh (42nd minute) and Mandeep Singh (48th) in the second half. The drama didn’t end there as, in the 57th minute, Australia netted the equaliser through Lachlan Sharp.