India’s hopes of qualifying for the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament went up in smoke after it crashed to its third defeat in the event, losing 0-2 to defending champion New Zealand, in a must-win penultimate round-robin match here on Thursday.
The Five-times champion needed a victory to stay in the competition, instead it was the Black Sticks who scored two second half goals to keep their flag flying in the tournament.
New Zealand struck through Andy Hayward from its second penalty corner in the 40th minute before Cory Bennett took the match out of India’s reach by netting in the 55th minute.
Pakistan holds Malaysia
Earlier, six-time champion Australia, after a 3-3 draw against Korea, ensured it was atop the leader-board with eight points from four games. In the last match of the day, Pakistan came back twice to hold Malyasia 2-2.
Having won only one match (against Pakistan) out of the four it has played so far, India is out of the reckoning and will take on Malaysia in its last league fixture on Saturday.
India had lost to Australia and Korea in its opening two games.
It was an evenly-contested opening half with both India and New Zealand producing a couple of scoring chances, only to be denied by the defensive lines. Indian custodian Sreejesh, in particular, was brilliant in the first half as he pulled off numerous saves, including a double save just 10 minutes from the break.
Hayward gave New Zealand the lead in the 40th minute from its second penalty corner with a powerful, angling low flick which beat Sreejesh all ends up.
Jolted by the goal, the Indians tried hard to get their acts together and strapping Nitin Thimmaiah injected some life into the Indian attack. He was complemented well by the energetic runs of Chinglensana Singh down the left flank.
The Indians almost managed to restore parity through Dharamvir Singh, but his turn-around hit from Thimmiah's defence splitting cross just sailed over the New Zealand bar.
In search of the equaliser, the Indians managed to earn a penalty corner in the 52nd minute but Rupinder Pal Singh's straight flick was not good enough to test New Zealand goalkeeper Hamish McGregor, who also denied Dharamvir from the subsequent rebound.
Benett took the game away from India when he scored from a rebound after Hayward's initial flick, from New Zealand's third penalty corner, was saved by Sreejesh.
India's chief coach Michael Nobbs said his wards were just not up to the mark.
“The disturbing factor was to see the boys missing out on elementary things like dropping the call and not marking the man in penalty corner conversions. We played far below our potential. We did not even play 50 per cent of the way we played against Pakistan,” said Nobbs.
“There is still a match (against Malaysia) to go for the boys to learn. This edition of the tournament from out our point of view was to identify talents for the Junior World Cup and to some extent the purpose has been served,” he insisted.
New Zealand coach Colin Batch said his team played a better brand of hockey today.
“The Indians played far below than what they churned out against Pakistan. I am happy with the performance of our boys and there is the big task of pulling it across Australia in our final match,” he said.
Australia 3 (Joshua Miller 41, 58, Timothy Deavin 70) drew with South Korea 3 (Nam Hyun-Woo 35, Nicholas Budgeon (own goal) 43, Lee Seung-Il 55).
New Zealand 2 (Andy Hayward 40, Cory Bennett 57) bt India 0.
Malaysia 2 (Faizal Saari 6, Mohamed Razie Rahim 53) drew with Pakistan 2 (Muhammad Imran 14, Shafqat Rasool 63).