Olympic bronze medalists India lost 2-5 to France in the second leg of their FIH Hockey Pro League two-leg tie in Potchefstroom. After winning 5-0 against France and 10-2 against South Africa earlier in the competition, the Indians were favorites to win again, but succumbed this time around.
While France dominated the early exchanges, India took control of the game after that, but neither team was able to create a genuine goal-scoring opportunity. A minute into the second quarter, India earned its first penalty corner of the game, but poor trapping prevented Harmanpreet Singh from scoring. In the very next move, France caught the Indian defence off guard and earned a penalty stroke, which Victor Charlet converted flawlessly.
After being taken aback by the Frenchmen, India upped the ante and earned their second penalty corner in the 21st minute, but France goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry made a brilliant save to deny young Jugraj Singh. But, in the next minute, India drew level when Jarmanpreet Singh's right-wing cross deflected off the sticks of Stanislas Branicki and into the French goal.
The Frenchmen looked more intent after the change of ends, securing back-to-back penalty corners in the 32nd minute but failing to capitalise on those opportunities. France continued to attack and took the lead in the 35th minute thanks to Viktor Lockwood, whose powerful shot from the left corner went through the legs of veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and into the Indian net.
Once again trailing by a goal, the Indians went on the offensive, putting pressure on the French defence but failing to break it down. India had five penalty corners in the third quarter, including three in a row in the 44th minute, but they erred in execution.
France increased their lead in the 48th minute with a variation strike from Charles Masson from their third penalty corner. India earned two more penalty corners, but players like Harmanpreet Singh, Jugraj Singh, and Varun Kumar struggled to break through the French defence, which was brilliantly led by goalkeeper Thieffry.
Harmanpreet Singh's penalty stroke conversion in the 57th minute gave India a one-goal lead. The Indians stepped up the pressure after the goal, securing two more penalty corners, but France defended in numbers.
To make matters worse for India, world no. 13 France scored two more goals in the final two minutes, the first on a penalty corner conversion by Charlet and the second on a field strike by Timothée Clement. India's lacklustre performance can be summed up by the fact that they earned up to ten penalty corners but failed to score.
On Sunday, India will face hosts South Africa in the second FIH Pro League match between the two teams.