India anchored a bronze, New Zealand its maiden trophy triumph and Argentina picked up a silver as Edition 21 of the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament sailed into history on Sunday.
The Kiwis prevailed over the Argentines by a solitary goal, while, in a fight back that was quite remarkable, India beat Britain by three goals to one.
Andy Hayward was New Zealand’s hero of the hour. One thundering penalty corner midway through the first half sealed the final for the Kiwis. The team was unlucky to enlarge the lead when a splendid attempt by Simon Child hit the upright and spun into play. He worked delectably to outrun the Argentine defenders for this effort.
Aggressive, athletic, and adept, the Argentines left nothing to chance to pepper the Kiwi defenders. But goal-keeper Kyle Pontifex rose to the occasion with stout hearted show.
India defeat Britain
In a contest that swung from brilliance to the bizarre, India accomplished a podium finish. This was India’s first win against Britain in four recent matches.
India lost 2-4 and 1-2 in the four-nation test event in London last month, and 2-3 in this competition. Today’s outcome signals a turning point.
Save for the irrepressible Sardar Singh in mid-field — fittingly declared the Man of the match and later as the Player of the Tournament — and Kothajit Singh to a level, India was not at the best. The score line is very misleading.
A plethora of openings went to waste. The forwards were inept, inaccurate and incredibly innocuous. That contributed to India trailing 0-1 at half-time.
Inadequate trapping and passing proved disastrous. Twice Shivendra was found wanting at the finish. Danish Mujtaba failed to stop the ball from a penalty push by Sardar Singh early on as Sandeep Singh waited in vain.
On the stroke of half-time, Britain hoisted the lead with an impeccable flick by Ashley Johnson, who scored his sixth goal.
If there was palpable gloom as the Indians walked out for the break, it was transparent.
It was India’s own making. Almost every forward, be it Sunil, Uthappa or Sarvanjit, floundered inside the circle.
There was a marginal improvement in the second. India achieved parity following a lovely move conceived by Sardar Singh and carried forward by Uthappa. The final touches were provided by Shivendra to atone for his earlier solecisms.
Buoyed by this, the Indians began engineering a few threatening forays. Sandeep Singh served the lead with his inimitable flick from the second penalty corner, the award of which by the Kiwi umpire, David Tomilinson, was disputed by the Britons. An attempt then from a combined move involving Kothajit, Shivendra and Sunil, spelt danger. But Sunil’s shot hit the post and spun back.
In a desperate effort to enhance the pressure, Britain’s coach, Jason Lee, pulled out the goal-keeper James Fair and put in a substitute when less than three minutes remained.
All the 11 players were on attack. But Sandeep demolished the designs of the British team. He provided that astute aerial pass. Tushar moving well inside the circle placed it to the empty goal. That effort surfaced with 1:45 seconds remaining from the hooter.
It is difficult to mask the feeling that India could have produced a far more commanding performance. Sixth in the last edition, India’ previous bronze came in 2007.
Of course, a podium finish gives some consolation. Coach Nobbs said the team is showing a definite improvement.
(5-6): Korea 3 (Hyun Hye Sung, Jang Jong Hyun, You Hyo Sik) beat Malaysia 2 (Hanafit Hafiz, Faisal Saari) HT 1-1.
(3-4) India 3 (Shivendra Singh, Sandeep Singh, Tushakr Khandker) beat Great Britain 1 (Ashley Jackson) HT 0-1.
Final: New Zealand 1 (Andy Hayward) vs Argentina. HT 1-0
Player of the tournament: Sardar Singh (India)
Man of the final: Andy Hayward (New Zealand)
Top scorer: Ashley Jackson (six goals)
Best goal-keeper: Kyle Pontifex (New Zealand)
Fair Play Award: Great Britain.
Final placings: 1.New Zealand, 2. Argentina, 3. India, 4, Great Britain, 5. Korea, 6. Malaysia, 7. Pakistan.
Azlan Shah XI: Kyle Pontifex (NZ), Dean Couzins (NZ), Rashid Mehmood (Pakistan), Hyun Woon Nam (Korea), Pedro Ibarra (Argentina), Sardar Singh (India), Ryan Archibald (NZ), Ashley Jackson (GB), Faisal Saari (Malaysia), S.V.Sunil (India) and Lucas Vila (Argentina).