Argentina stopped a surging India in their stride at the Azlan Shah hockey tournament when they won the final 2-1 in extra-time in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Sunday. A brace by Mario Almada saw the South Americans lift the trophy on their third attempt.
Drag-flicker Sandeep Singh put India into the lead when he converted a penalty-corner in the 11th minute and finished as the highest scorer in the tournament with nine goals. But Argentina draw level immediately when Almada slammed in a goal from close range in the 14th minute.
Argentina, who had beaten India 5-1 earlier in the league encounter, clinched the issue through Almada's golden goal in the third minute of extra-time.
The tournament was established in 1983, but Argentina made their debut in 2006 and ended up seventh then; last year they placed fifth. On both occasions eight teams figured in the tournament.
New Zealand won the bronze when they beat Pakistan 2-1 while Canada edged past Belgium 4-3 to save themselves the embarrassment of finishing last. Malaysia ended up at the bottom.
India will take the silver medal with pride, having showcased a brilliant turnaround in the tournament. They won four matches in a row after two defeats to book a berth in the final after a huge gap of 12 years.
The title clash was keenly-contested and went down to the wire before Almada's golden goal in extra-time clinched it for the South Americans.
Both the Argentina wingers worked overtime and gave the Indian defenders a torrid time, but Diwakar Ram and Sandeep Singh did well to ward off the initial threats and goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza brought off some scintillating saves to deny Argentina any early advantage.
In the fourth minute umpire Ged Curran of Scotland awarded a penalty-corner to Argentina after Adrian made a diving ground clearance. The enraged Indians advanced menacingly towards Durran and protested. Curran consulted his colleague Amarjit Singh, but in the end stuck to his decision. Ignacio Gilardi took the shot, but Adrian saved it with his characteristic calm.
Shivendra Singh and S V Sunil staged a counterattack in the 10th minute and when they were brought down near the circle, Amrajit signalled India's first-penalty corner. Sandeep Singh flicked the ball past Argentine goalkeeper and captain Manuel Vivaldi without much trouble to open India's account and score his ninth goal of the tournament.
But India could not hold on to the lead for long. Four minutes later, hard working right winger Tomas Argento sent in a cross and veteran Almada got the equaliser for Argentina.
A few minutes before the break, Argentina came close to taking the lead when defender Gilardi's free hit was tapped by Facundo, but the Indian defence rose to the occasion and thwarted his attempt.
Players of both teams got into a scuffle following a melee, forcing the umpires to halt the match for six minutes.
The second half was relatively incident-free with both the sides exercising a degree of caution. Though Argentina were better in terms of attacks, the Indians also did well to create some openings.
Argentina got an easy penalty-corner five minutes before the half-time hooter, but Gilardi's flick narrowly missed the target.
In the second half, India got two penalty-corners, in the 42nd
and 53rd minutes, but Sandeep failed to bring cheer to the capacity crowd that supported the Indians.
As the scores remained tied at 1-1 after regulation time, the match went into extra-time, during which Almada scored the golden goal to seal the issue.