Kiwis better organised in midfield and deep defence; Big win for Australia

New Zealand chalked up a 3-1 win over India which thus slid to its second defeat in as many matches in the Olympic men’s hockey competition here on Wednesday.

India, after a sensational start when Sandeep Singh converted a second minute penalty corner, faded away as the Kiwis came back strongly with goals by Andrew Hayward (13th), Phillip Burrows (24th) and Nicolas Wilson (29th), and then nursed the lead to the end.

Age-old errors

It was a very disappointing performance by the Indians who just did not have the pace or power to overwhelm the Kiwis. Rather, age-old errors seemed to creep into India’s game with badly positioned forwards inside the striking circle, over-dribbling and lack of variety in their attacks.

In the deep defence, too, the Indians looked a step slower than the Kiwis and, more often than not, struggled to get the ball away from the danger zone. So much so that for the second-half coach Michael Nobbs replaced captain and goalkeeper Bharat Chetri with Sreejesh, who justified the substitution with a couple of good saves.

In contrast, the Black Sticks, who had beaten India 5-1 en route to winning the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia earlier this summer, appeared better organised in the midfield and deep defence while the forwards bided time for the long balls to counter attack.

In fact, the Kiwi defenders seemed to read the Indian attacks rather well and had enough men behind the ball to stall the rivals.

India, which went down 2-3 to the Netherlands on Monday, promised a lot in the opening minutes when it forced a penalty corner that Sandeep Singh converted, picking a brilliant angle and height to slot the drag-flick into the net.

However, the Kiwis kept their composure and gradually came back into the match while the Indians backpedalled at the first sign of counter-attack and provided a lot of space for the Black Sticks to make their moves.

The Kiwis, who lost 0-2 to Korea in their opening game, accepted the invitation and began to attack in waves and forced two penalty corners, the second of which Hayward converted for the equaliser.

The Kiwis sustained the pressure and, with their forwards slipping through a rather porous Indian defence, it was only a matter of time before they scored. Another Hayward penalty corner attempt saw the ball deflecting on to defender Birendra Lakra’s body off goalkeeper Bharat Chetri’s stick resulting in a penalty stroke that Burrows converted.

The pattern continued and the Kiwis scored again on a counter-attack from the right wing as Wilson put Shea McAleese through and then was on hand to put home the return pass to put New Zealand 3-1 up.

The Indians, apart from their opening spell, were hardly in the frame except during some sporadic raids that were easily repelled by a well-structured Kiwi defence.

The second-half was rather scrappy with the Kiwis more intent on pegging the opponents inside their own half while the Indians seemed to wilt under ceaseless pressure, unable to put together an effective attack.

Also, two yellow card suspensions in this session, first Sardar Singh for retaliation and Manpreet Singh for deliberate infringement, did not help India’s cause while Sandeep Singh failed to convert two back-to-back penalty corners in the last quarter while Raghunath’s attempt came off the post in the dying minutes.

The results: Men: Group A: Australia 5 bt Spain 0..

Group B: The Netherlands 3 bt Belgium; New Zealand 3 (Andrew Hayward, Phillip Burrows and Nicolas Wilson) bt India 1 (Sandeep Singh).

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