The Indian men's hockey team held their nerves with stunning teamwork to draw 1-1 with the Netherlands as they romped into the final against Australia at the Rabobank Men's Hockey Champions Trophy Breda 2018 on Saturday.
This is only the second time in the history of the tournament that the Indian men's hockey team have made it to the final.
Previously, the team had won a silver medal in 2016, after a gap of 34 years.
It was Mandeep Singh (47') who scored the crucial goal for India in this thrilling encounter while Thierry Brinkman (55') scored the equaliser for the home team.
There was plenty of action in the first quarter with both teams vying for a place in the final. India, however, 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 Netherlands 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 (PC), thanks to Dilpreet again, but a variation saw Harmanpreet pass the ball to Varun Kumar after Sardar Singh's injection but Varun could not get a strong push, which was cleared quite effortlessly by the Dutch goalkeeper.
Though India gave away three PCs by halftime, with no score on the board for either team. The visitors' defence was compact, very alert and yet again had a 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 PC 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, the Dutch fans rallied behind their home team with encouraging cheers. The home support worked with Thierry 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 PCs. But India held their nerves to avert the danger and seal the match with a 1-1 draw and progress to the final.
India will now face defending champions Australia on Sunday.