Olympic bronze medallists India suffered a 2-5 defeat against lower-ranked France in the second match of the FIH Hockey Pro League two-leg tie on Saturday.
India started the match as clear favourites after having registered convincing wins -- 5-0 against France and 10-2 against South Africa -- in the FIH Pro League so far. But France had other plans on Saturday and got the better of their fancied opponents.
India were slow to get off the blocks but gained in confidence as the match progressed. While France enjoyed the early exchanges, India controlled the proceedings thereafter but both the teams failed to create any real goal-scoring chance.
A minute into the second quarter, India secured the first penalty corner of the match but poor trapping didn't give Harmanpreet Singh a shot at the goal.
France caught the Indian defence off guard in the very next move and earned a penalty stroke which was converted by Victor Charlet. Stunned by the Frenchmen, India upped the ante and secured their second penalty corner in the 21st minute, but France goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry came up with a brilliant save to deny Jugraj Singh.
But in the very next minute, India drew level when Jarmanpreet Singh's cross from the right went into the French goal after getting a deflection from the sticks of Stanislas Branicki.
France looked more purposeful after the change of ends and secured back-to-back penalty corners in the 32nd minute but failed to utilise the chances. They continued with their attacking game and restored their lead in the 35th minute through Viktor Lockwood, whose powerful shot from the left corner went through the legs of veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh into the Indian net.
Down by a goal once again, India came out attacking and kept up the pressure on the French defence but failed to break it. They had their chances and secured five penalty corners in the third quarter, including three in succession in the 44th minute, but erred in execution.
France extended their lead in the 48th minute from their third penalty corner through a variation strike from Charles Masson.
India secured two more penalty corners but the likes of Harmanpreet, Jugraj and Varun Kumar found it difficult to get past the French defence.
India pulled a goal back in the 57th minute through a penalty stroke conversion by Harmanpreet Singh. They stepped up the pressure and secured two more penalty corners but France defended in numbers.
To add to India's woes, world number 13 France scored two more goals in the final two minutes of the game -- first through a penalty corner conversion by Charlet and then a field strike by Timothe Clement.
India's performance can be summed up from the fact that they earned as many as 10 penalty corners but failed to find the back of the net. They will next play hosts South Africa in the second FIH Pro League match between the two sides on Sunday.