FIH Pro League: Improvement in defence, Pathak's brilliance highlight India's shootout win over Spain

Harmanpreet Singh (second from left) scored a brace in India's win over Spain. Hockey India

The scorecard will say India vs Spain on Sunday ended 2-2 and Graham Reid's side won an extra point after winning the shootout. Just by looking at the scorecard, the two goals conceded might suggest that India, once again, didn't do enough defensively. But that's not the case.

After giving away 10 goals in three matches, most of which came from defensive errors, the Indian defence put on a much-improved effort against Spain. The highlight was goalkeeper Krishan Pathak's heroics, who was outstanding throughout the match and turned it up a notch in the shootout.

Solid at the back but cards prove costly

Spain had a great chance to take the early lead when they won a penalty corner early in the first quarter, but Manpreet Singh (who else!) set the tone for what was to follow. He was one of the rushers defending the penalty corner and threw his body on the line to save the hit. The ball struck him on the thigh and he was in pain, but he got up quickly and motioned that he was okay to soldier on.

It had a rippling effect on the rest of the team, as his fellow defenders followed suit and did their absolute best whenever Spain had the ball.

Jarmanpreet Singh, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh and Amit Rohidas were solid at the back for almost three quarters. Manpreet, Hardik Singh, Shamsher Singh, Rajkumar Pal and Rabichandra Moirangthem also provided good cover for their defence, thwarting Spain's attack for most of the time.

At half-time, Spain had more penalty corners (3-2) and circle penetrations (12-9), but it was India who had the lead thanks to Harmanpreet Singh's goal. Soon after the start of the third quarter, Harmanpreet converted another penalty corner to ensure India doubled their lead. However, India's problems began when they started losing players to cards. Mind you, India were already shown three green cards by that time but did well to not give the advantage.

Jugraj Singh was shown a yellow card in the 38th minute while Sumit also got a yellow in the fourth quarter. Both times, Spain took the opportunity and scored. Spain won 10 penalty corners in the final two quarters. They would've won the match if not for Pathak's brilliance.

"For the three quarters of the game, I was reasonably happy but it's hard to keep defending when you only have 10 players," Reid told ESPN after the match.

Regarding the cards, Reid said he doesn't like to comment on umpires but added, "we need to look at the game, and you want (to decide) to let people track or not because we are giving away corners to everything, we are giving away cards to everything."

Reid had a point: it's not clear as to why umpires are so quick to show cards.

Pathak steals the show

The Indian goalkeeper has been in sublime form over the last few matches. On Sunday, he played all four quarters with PR Sreejesh watched on from the bench. It might be a vindication of his form, but Pathak confirmed after the match that Sreejesh was carrying a niggle.

Pathak couldn't do much against Marc Miralles' penalty corner which made it 1-2 for Spain and did extremely well to save Pere Amat's shot but the ball hit Jugraj's foot and rolled into the goal to make it 2-2. But apart from these two instances, he pulled off numerous saves, especially in the final two quarters when Spain upped the intensity.

His brilliance was seen during the shootout as well when he saved three shots to ensure India take a point more than Spain. Pathak saw Spain missing all their shots during the shootout against New Zealand on Saturday and it proved to be useful.

"I always try to stay calm. This is not the time to jump in excitement. You have to remember everything you did as preparations for this moment. The shootout (against New Zealand) also helped me," Pathak said.

India finished the 'mini tournament' of Pro League with eight points after two wins, one shootout win and one loss. Up next for them is a five match series against Australia down under, starting in the last week of November.