A young Indian side put up a spirited fight before going down 4-3 to six-time champion Australia in the opening encounter of the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament here on Saturday.
India, which fielded a second string side, did challenge its superior opponent but the turning point of the game was when India conceded two goals within two minutes of the second half.
For Australia, Matt Gohdes scored in the 24th and 39th minutes, while Glenn Simpson (38th) and Trent Milton (53rd) were the other scorers.
Brace by Rupinder
Drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh converted two penalty corners in the 40th and 68th minute, while Malak Singh scored a brilliant field goal from an acute angle in the 51st minute. Australia led 1-0 at the break.
Australia took control of the game within the first 10 minutes during which India goalkeeper P. Sreejesh effected a couple of smart saves off Tim Bates.
However, the Indian defence finally fell in the 24th minute when the Aussies got their first penalty corner. While Sreejesh saved the hit, Gohdes who had pushed the ball, scored off the rebound to put his team 1-0 up.
The Aussies started with a bang in the second half and got two goals within two minutes. First it was a penalty corner, which Glenn Simpson converted with the Indian defence being sold a dummy by one of the Australian players standing in the opposition striking circle. Before the Indians could get their act together, it became 3-0 as Gohdes got his second goal in the 39th minute.
In the 40th minute, India managed to get its first short corner, which Rupinder Pal converted. His powerful drag-flick giving the Aussie goalkeeper no chance.
Having pulled a goal back, the Indian team came out of its shell with Mandeep Singh and Chingalsena trying to take control of the midfield.
In the 51st minute, Malak scored the best out of the seven goals in the match. Receiving a pass from the top of the ‘D’, the player raced down the right wing and from an acute angle beat the Aussie goalkeeper, who had closed in on the near post.
With the scoreline reading 3-2, one expected Michael Nobbs’ boys to go all-out for the elusive equaliser but the Australians used all their experience to increase their lead against the run of play.
As the pressure increased on the Aussie defence, they went on the counter and earned a penalty corner with the Indian defenders faltering.
For once, Sreejesh was not at his best as he committed himself early on the drive and Trent Milton, positioned near the goalmouth, chipped it over the diving goalkeeper to make it 4-2. The Australians got another penalty corner after this but the Indian defence was equal to the task.
Finally, when Rupinder Pal got his second and team’s third goal, it was too late in the day and the Australians managed to hold on to their slender lead and logged three points.
India’s chief coach Michael Nobbs said he had enough reasons to be pleased with the performance of his wards.
“Australia’s two goals early in the second half unsettled us. But I am happy with the way the boys fought back and managed to narrow the gap,” Nobbs said.
“We brought a development squad here and I am satisfied with the performance of the team against Australia today.”
Pakistan posts win
Earlier, Pakistan edged past defending champion New Zealand 4-3 in the opening match.
Pakistan was helped by three goals from captain Imran Muhammad who converted penalty corners in the 19th, 28th and 58th minutes. The other goal came from Hazeen Khan Abdul in the 21st minute.
For the loser, Russell Kane converted a penalty corner in the 30th minute and Tarrant Blair scored a field goal in the 52nd minute. Besides, a penalty corner conversion came from defender Hayward Andy in the 56th minute.
The results: New Zealand 3 (Kane Russell 30, Blair Tarrant 52, Andy Hayward 56) Pakistan 4 (Muhammad Imran 19, 28, 58, Abdul Haseem Khan 21).
Australia 4 (Matt Gohdes 24, 39, Glenn Simpson 38, Trent Mitton 53) India 3 (Rupinder Pal Singh 40, 68 Malak Singh 51).
Malaysia 3 (Faizal Saari 21, Chua Boon Huat 68, 69) South Korea 2 (Nam Hyun-Woo 57, Yoon Sung-Hoon 68).