A brace from Craig Thomas helped Australia to a 4-0 win over India in the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. The Aussies finished the tournament unbeaten, winning it for the 4th time in the last 6 years. Despite the loss, India did improve on the 3rd-place finish they managed last year.
Historically, Australia and India have been the most successful nations in the Sultan Azlan Shah. They have lifted the trophy 13 times among themselves since its inception back in 1983. However, in terms of consistency no team comes close to the Aussies, who had featured in 11 of the 24 finals of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, having won it eight times in the process.
Australia went on the attack from the opening whistle, with their attackers pressing the Indian defenders in their own halves. Once they won back the possession, the Australians kept the ball with relative ease. They probed and prodded for a long time around the shooting circle, as India defended desperately, before Craig Thomas won a penalty corner in the 8th minute. Jeremy Hayward stepped up and drag flicked the ball with tremendous pace, but it went just wide of the post.
The Indian attackers, who were mostly playing on the counter, did not trouble the Australian defence who had conceded just three goals in their six games in the league stage of the tournament. Both the teams became a bit circumspect as the quarter progressed and the first period ended goalless.
The second quarter started in similar fashion with both defences reigning supreme on the pitch. Australia remained patient in their build-up play though, and eventually in the 25th minute Craig Thomas opened the scoring. Flynn Ogilvie picked out Thomas inside the shooting circle with a precise pass, and the forward turned Jasjit Singh Kular too easily before finding the back of the net with his low shot.
Two minutes later, the Aussies had the chance to double their lead when Matt Gohdes found the foot of Rupinder Pal Singh inside the circle and the referee awarded a penalty corner. However, Blake Govers dragged his shot wide and India were left off the hook. Australia went into the half-time break with a deserved 1-0 lead, and a step closer to lift their third Sultan Azlan Shah trophy in the last four years.
India came out in the third quarter with a much more aggressive intent, and they won a penalty corner just two minutes into the second half. SV Sunil flicked a ball onto the foot of Chris Ciriello, and the referee blew his whistle. However, Andrew Charter made a brilliant double save to deny India the equalizer, first to keep out Harmanpreet's drag flick and then to block SV Sunil's shot from the rebound.
As India squandered two golden opportunities, Australia showed ruthlessness at the other end as they doubled their lead in the 35th minute with beautifully worked team goal. Aran Zalewski and Simon Orchard orchestrated the move from the midfield, with Thomas applying the finishing touch by sliding the ball into the net with a full-stretched dive.
Five minutes later, India came close to pulling one back, when Charter played the ball onto the leg of Ciriello while defending a cross from the right. The ball deflected off his leg towards the goal, but the defender got back in time to clear it off the line. However, India were awarded a penalty corner, which Rupinder failed to convert from.
That miss proved costly with Australia extending their lead. Harjot did well to deny Matthew Swann's initial attempt in the 43rd minute, however the ball was played back in for Matt Gohdes, who turned it into the net to make it 3-0, and celebrate his 150th cap for Australia in style.
Harjot denied Govers from another penalty corner five minutes later, but he could do nothing about Gohdes' second goal in the 57th minute, when he wonderfully controlled a long ball from the back and found the bottom corner of the net from an improbable angle to make it 4-0.
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