| India’s Dilip Tirkey (left) and William Xalco attempt to stop South Africa’s Ian Symons during their pool B match in Athens on Tuesday. (AFP)
Athens: India came from behind to record a remarkable 4-2 win against South Africa and keep their Olympic medal hopes alive in the men’s hockey competition here on Tuesday.
Trailing 0-2 at one stage, the eight-time gold medallists showed their class to emerge victorious in the thrilling contest, which they needed to win to remain on track for a semi-final berth from pool B.
India, who had lost their opening encounter to The Netherlands, were greatly served by their three senior players, Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Singh Dhillon and Dilip Tirkey, all of whom scored a goal apiece before Gagan Ajit Singh’s last-minute strike sealed the South African fate.
Greg Nicol and Craig Fulton scored for the South Africans, who had won their first match against Argentina on Sunday.
Quite like the match against The Netherlands, India suffered an early reverse when Nicol scored from South Africa’s first penalty corner in the seventh minute.
India’s misery was compounded further when Fulton’s field goal five minutes later forced them to rethink their strategies.
The Indians, who hardly tested the opposition goalkeeper for the major part of the first half, regrouped themselves after the twin blows and made some incisive moves which resulted in the side getting a penalty corner in the 27th minute.
Tirkey’s firm hit from the set piece was saved by a diving South African goalkeeper David Staniforth but a lurking Pillay rushed ahead and tapped the ball in much to the delight of the Indian supporters present in the stands.
South africa defended stoutly for the remaining time of the first half and went to the half time 1-2.
The second half saw the Indians dominating from the word go and coming up with several goalbound moves.
The repeated attacks earned the side their second penalty corner which was intelligently converted by Dhillon in the 42nd minute for the equaliser.
Both the sides pressed hard to get the lead and in the process dished out some exciting hockey. But none could give the finishing touches to the several moves made in the next few minutes.
A yellow card to Ryan Ravenscroft in the 59th minute raised India’s hopes but South Africa with 10 men fought bravely to thwart the rampaging opposition forwards.
The score remained 2-2 till the very end before captain Tirkey emerged the hero scoring from a penalty corner a minute before the hooter.
With just seconds to go before the end, Gagan Ajit completed the formalities slamming home from a quick counter attack.
In other matches of the day, South Korea beat Britain 3-1 in pool A while Pakistan thrashed Egypt 7-0. In pool B, Argentina held Australia 2-2.