Their dreams shattered after crashing out of the Hero Junior Men's Hockey World Cup, India would look to redeem some pride and finish inside the top-10 bracket when they take on Argentina in the 9th-12th classification match here at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, on Thursday.
India crashed out of the quarterfinal race of the ongoing World Cup after being held to a 3-3 draw by Korea in their must-win Pool C match on Tuesday.
The draw meant both India and Korea finished their pool engagement with four points apiece and it was not enough for the home team to march forward as they needed nothing less than a win.
The draw, however, was more than enough for the Koreans to progress to the knock-out stage as they had a better goal difference than the hosts.
Korea finished second, while The Netherlands topped the pool with three wins from as many games. The Dutch thrashed lowly Canada 7-0 in their last league encounter yesterday.
The Indians only had themselves to blame for the current scenario as they allowed Korea to come from 1-3 down to draw the match in the last 12 minutes of the match.
Fully aware that only a win would guarantee them a place in the knockout stage, India started on a positive note against the nimble-footed Koreans yesterday and despite trailing 1-0 at the initial stages, the hosts fought back to lead 3-1 till the last minutes of the game.
But as it had been the story in the tournament for India, moments of lapse in concentration from the Indian defence allowed Korea to claw back and drew parity. Thereafter, the Korean backline defended in numbers to shut the door on the Indians.
And come tomorrow it will be a test of character for the Manpreet Singh-led side to get their act together and rejuvenate themselves to face Aregentina in the play-offs of the tournament, which they fancied to finish on the podium before home crowd.
With a podium finish out of sight, India's chief coach Greg Clark said that his next task would be to rejuvenate his wards for the 9-12 place classification matches.
"The guys are very disappointed. It was a home tournament and they were desperate to do well. I really feel for them. They had been training and focusing on this tournament for a long time," he said.
"I will give them time and space. It is really important for us now to win our next two matches so that we can finish as high as possible," Clark said.
India were by far the dominant side on display in their last two Pool C encounters against Canada and Korea but what did them in was the inability of their forwards to covert their chances into goals.
India boasts of a strong forwardline in Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Malak Singh and Talwinder Singh, but apart from Mandeep no other striker rose to the occasion for the hosts.
Ramnadeep, who secured the highest bid of USD 81000 (approx Rs 50 lakh) from Uttar Pradesh Wizards during a closed-bid auction for the second season of the Hockey India League (HIL), looked a pale shadow of himself in the three games and come tomorrow he would desperate to prove his worth.
But what has hurt India the most in the tournament is the performance of its backline. The Indian defence was guilty of conceding soft goals in all the three matches so far and in the must-win match last night they gave away two soft penalty corners in the last 12 minutes of the match to allow Korea to make a remarkable comeback.
Clark too admitted that his wards threw it away last night despite enjoying a comfortable lead.
"Definitely, we gave it away when we were 3-1 up. I don't think Korea played that well. We gave them lot of soft turnovers. We could have controlled the game a bit more," a visibly disappointed Clark said.
"We turned the ball over too cheaply. We didn't take our chances when they came and we paid the price for it."
If India win against Argentina tomorrow, they will take on the winner of the match between Pakistan and South Africa in the 9th-10th place play-off match on Saturday.