Sultan Azlan Shah Cup: Inconsistent India go down to defending champions New Zealand

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - Hockey India

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup: Inconsistent India go down to defending champions New Zealand

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Arun S Kaimal


Indian hockey team’s hope of a place in the final of the 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hang in the balance after suffering a 1-2 defeat to defending champions New Zealand on Wednesday. Kane Russell and Nick Wilson scored the goals for the Black Sticks, while Mandeep Singh scored India’s lone goal.

After a stunning 5-1 victory over arch-rivals Pakistan yesterday, India took on defending champions New Zealand with a spot in the final on the line. Although, India were high on confidence after their win against Pakistan, the match got off to a sedate start with the heat at Ipoh playing a big part in the pace of the game. Match officials increased the quarter break from two minutes to four, but the blazing sun kept both teams breathless after the opening quarter.

S V Sunil’s and Ramandeep’s pace has been the strength of the Indian team in the tournament, and it once again showed in the 20th minute after Ramandeep made a brilliant run into the box to find the foot of the Kiwi defender for the first penalty corner of the match. Rupinder Pal Singh stepped up and produced a powerful flick, which looked destined for the top corner, before Devon Manchester palmed the ball away to keep things deadlocked.

The defending champions upped their game in the final minutes of the second quarter and earned a penalty corner in the 27th minute after Rupinder Pal Singh’s stick-check in the shooting circle was deemed as a foul by the umpire. Ryan Archibald injected the ball towards Kane Russell, and the drag-flicker scored for the Black Sticks with a push, which took a massive deflection of Manpreet’s stick to catch Harjot on the wrong foot.  

Although, India went into the halftime break trailing by a goal, the five-time Sultan Azlan Shah Cup champions made things level after six minutes into the third quarter. Talwinder Singh guarded the ball near the edge of the shooting circle and took a reverse shot at the goal. Mandeep Singh, who was standing near the goal, deflected the shot into the goal to catch Devon Manchester off-guard.

However, the Black Sticks took back their lead in the 41st minute through a field goal from forward Nick Wilson. A comedy of errors in the defence by India saw Harjot palming the effort into the path of the striker, and Wilson made no mistakes from close range and smashed the ball in to restore New Zealand’s lead.

With the Kiwis once again in the lead, India pushed hard for an equaliser in the last quarter. After the goalkeeper dashed his hopes of a goal in the second quarter, Rupinder Pal Singh once again got a chance in the 47th minute to score a goal after Manpreet earned a penalty corner. The drag-flicker, who went for the top corner last time, this time went for the bottom one, but was once again denied after Devon Manchester pulled off yet another brilliant save.

India tried hard to break the Kiwi defence in the last ten minutes, but fell short of a goal with Devon Manchester standing like a rock between them and the goal. With the win, New Zealand finished the group stage in the second position with 11 points from six games, while India will have to defeat hosts Malaysia in the last match to keep their hopes of a final place intact. 

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