India edged 1-2 by New Zealand, drop to third spot in Azlan Shah Cup
India edged 1-2 by New Zealand, drop to third spot in Azlan Shah Cup

Ipoh (Malaysia), April 13 (IANS) India’s hockey team lost 1-2 to New Zealand to slide to the third spot in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup here on Wednesday.

After a slow beginning, Kane Russel gave the New Zealanders the lead in the 29th minute from a penalty corner. Mandeep Singh equalised for India in the 36th minute but Nick Wilson (41st) struck his fourth goal of the tournament to clinch the encounter for the defending champions.

India failed to utilise three penalty corners — two in the final quarter — in the match as they searched for the equaliser and went down losing 1-2.

Reflecting on the match, India head coach Roelant Oltmans said: “We played a strong game, considering the conditions we must consider ourselves a bit unlucky. Both the New Zealand goalkeepers had a great game.”

With this win, Colin Batch-coached New Zealand moved to the second position with 11 points from six matches. Last year’s bronze medallists India are third with nine points from five matches.

Reigning world champion Australia are on top of the pool with four wins in as many matches. They play later in the day against bottom-placed Japan. Canada are fourth with five points from five games. Malaysia and Pakistan — who play the final game of the day — are fifth and sixth with five and three points, respectively.

The top two teams will automatically qualify for the final, while the third and fourth ranked teams play the bronze medal match after the conclusion of the round-robin competition.

India can still play the final, if they beat hosts Malaysia in their final pool game on Friday.

“We get another opportunity to get to the final though, and are focussed on winning our next game against the hosts Malaysia to get that spot,” Oltmans said.

The Indian team was expected to play an aggressive game, especially after the 5-1 triumph over traditional rivals Pakistan. But it didn’t turn out to be like that.

The match started on a slow note, with both the teams trying to gauge each other’s weaknesses while denying an early goal. The midfielders from both the side dictated the play as the first quarter didn’t witness any clear-cut chances.

The teams stepped up their game in the second quarter and India got a chance in the form of a penalty corner in the 21st minute. New Zealand goalkeeper Devon Manchester parried the flick from Rupinder Pal Singh that came to him at his shoulder height.

New Zealand began to gain pace in their game, late in the second quarter, thanks to Nick Wilson and Hayden Philipps.

A messy defending from the Indian part gave New Zealand their first penalty corner and they made the most of it. Russell fired in the line anticipated by goalkeeper Harjot Singh. But the ball kissed the stick of runner Manpreet Singh and changed its line and rocketed into the goal, leaving Harjot stranded and frustrated.

India equalised six minutes into the break, when forward Talwinder Singh’s drive from the top of the circle was deflected home by Mandeep, beating changed goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex on to his left.

New Zealand took just five minutes to hit back with a quick counter-attack as an unmarked Wilson scored off a rebound from Harjot.

India’s bid to restore parity was intense as many chances came their way in the final quarter. Both Rupinder and Harmanpreet Singh wasted two penalty corners after hitting it slow and low, easy to be dismissed by Pontifex.

Nikkin Thimmaiah also got a clear-cut chance as the unmarked Karnataka attacker hit the ball wide of the far post as India continued to trail.

Ultimately, India failed to find their equaliser as the New Zealand defence stood tall for the match to end 2-1 in favour of the Blacksticks.

    The IANS was founded by Indian American publisher Gopal Raju as the India Abroad News Service. It was later renamed the Indo-Asian News Service.

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