Birmingham — India men reached their third final in four Commonwealth Games after scuppering South Africa’s bid for a debut final appearance. India won 3-2, a goal in the final minute giving Graham Reid’s side some late butterflies, but they were fully deserving of this win.
First-half goals from Abhishek and Mandeep Singh gave India a deserved lead before Ryan Julius started a period of belief for South Africa until Jugraj Singh struck from a late corner. A Mustapha Cassiem goal with a minute left came too late for South Africa.
After their last two matches had finished 10-2 in India’s favour – South Africa hadn’t beaten their opponents since London 2012 – this semi-final cemented the green and yellow’s status as a team to watch in the seasons to come. Young and highly skilled, they have lit up these Games. They were second best against a well-drilled India.
And for India, they now continue their fine form in tournament hockey, which started from the off on Saturday night. Gowan Jones was twice forced to make a smother save as he fell back, Abishek scooping into the South Africa keeper with India’s most fruitful chance of the first quarter.
Jones then twice blocked corners with his left glove as the quarter ended goalless, with India holding possession and shots.
The sight of Daayan Cassiem opening the gas tanks suggested that this was side still in this tournament. He won a PC but India charged down both Matt Guise-Brown’s flicks.
The Olympic bronze medallists took a deserved lead when Abhishek atoned for his earlier miss with a fine reverse from the top of the circle.
India were in sync now. Twice they countered with an aerial or two-pass interchange to Mandeep. The second of these saw Mandeep collect inside the 23m and fire low past Jones and his battered gloves.
It was a fine end to a dominating half for Graham Reid’s side. Now the task was to maintain it for 60, where India have been found out in Birmingham.
Where Guise-Brown’s hits were being blocked or charged down, their comeback mission saw a rebound from his fifth corner finished by Ryan Julius.
Jones sprung to his right to keep out India’s third and then produced an even better stick save from Harmanpreet’s low drag. The Durbanite was keeping South Africa in this semi-final.
After India turned defensive in the final quarter, Jones was taken off with three minutes left. As India sought the final goal, Abhishek picked a long pass and jolted into the circle. Guise-Brown’s errant stick earned a seat for the rest of the match. With no goalkeeper, Jugraj coolly flicked down the middle.
It seemed the only option to Guise-Brown, but he chanced his arm, before his side were briefly lifted in the final 60 seconds when Mustapha Cassiem struck.