Australia assures itself of a semifinal berth; England suffers a reverse

It was a great escape in the end. In a nerve wracking encounter, India managed to snatch a 3-3 draw against South Africa to come in line for a 7-8 place in the Hero Honda hockey World Cup on Monday.

Pathetic though in patches, the home team survived the scare of moving down to the 9-10 spot match after Shivendra Singh produced the equaliser four minutes before the hooter.

India finished in the fourth place on account of its better goal difference of minus 4 against the minus 15 of South Africa.

The work by the Indian defenders in the zone was shoddy throughout. That showed out within a few minutes when an unmarked Norris Jones darted in without a challenge and beat Adrian D'Souza hands down.

Bewildered by the turn of the tide early in the encounter, India forced the pace in the attack amidst a maze of errors. Even the mid-field was unsteady, not comprehending the speed of the rival attack.

India was lucky to get the equaliser midway through. Halappa did the spade work which was carried on by Prabhjot and culminated in Sarvanjit Singh netting.

Errors

India continued to wallow in a pool of errors arising out poor trapping by Sandeep Singh and even by the dependable Gurbaj Singh. A flunked up penalty corner — the second in a row — was rolled to Shivender Singh. He served the ball to Vikram Pillay, whose push from the top of the circle beat goal-keeper Erasamus Pieterse.

The suspense at the Indian end was clear every time when the South Africans attacked. The wobbly defence inspired little confidence. A deflection by Paul Blake missed the mark narrowly.

South Africa squared up neatly after the break from a penalty corner. Goalkeeper Adrian padded a powerful drive but Reid Ross tucked in the rebound. Confusion reigned when a combined move involving Chandi and Tushar ended with Sarvanjit placing the ball inside. But Eert Roel, the Dutch umpire, signalled a goal but the decision was disputed by the South Africans as the earlier video referral was still in progress. The goal was disallowed.

Another video referral penalty corner ended with South Africa forging ahead thanks to a rebound flick by Austin Smith.

As the tension rose to a crescendo, came the equaliser for India. A long range pass by Sandeep split the defence and ended in a scrimmage. Shivendra slotted in amidst vociferous cheers. Diwakar received an yellow card for a foul on Wade Paton.

Earlier, Australia, devoid of the sparkle which impaired the fluidity of attack and defensive work, managed to eke out a 2-1 victory against Pakistan and confirm its place in the semifinal. The Aussies trailed 0-1 at half-time.

The outcome and the goal difference of + 12 pushed Australia to the top of the group and England's +5. Both finished their engagements in the Pool with 12 points each.

But taken on the whole, it was a show the Aussies and their renowned coach, Ric Charlesworth, would like it be erased from memory.

It was a pity that Pakistan failed to emerge victorious notwithstanding a fairly impressive display. When Sohail Abbas struck late in the first half, it looked as though Pakistan would consolidate its dominance.

The attack led by Irfan Muhammad and supported well by Shakeel Abbasi maintained a good measure of pressure on the Aussie defenders who were shockingly tentative. Only in the second half did Australia show some authority in the rival zone. Dennis Abbott connected a drive from Liem De Young to score a spectacular goal and help Australia draw level.

Actually, if Abbasi had not failed with a sitter four minutes from end, the result could have been different. But it was Australia that emerged winner when Abbott gave the finishing touches to a long cross by Hammond.

Surprise result

Assured of a semifinal spot, England had no reason stretch. But the 0-2 reverse against Spain in the last match of the pool was a surprise. The verdict strengthened the position of Spain on the table and brought the team in line for a possible fifth place. There was a transparent lack of vibrancy in the English attack. But a filament of fluency was clear in the Spanish sallies led by Ed Tabau and Pau Quemada.

The combination forked up several moves and one of them almost ended in a goal in the early minutes.

Pau's shot off a pass from Tabau sailed away from the target.

However, close on time Quemada converted a penalty corner for the lead.

England had few moments to relish. A fine attempt by Jonty Clarke early in the second half almost ended in an equaliser but Ramon Alagre made a splendid goal-line save.

The results:

Pool B: India 3 (Sarvanjit Singh, Vikram Pillay, Shivendra Singh) drew with South Africa 3 (Norris Jones, Reid Ross, Austin Smith). HT 2-1.

Spain 2 (Pau Quemada, Eduard Tabau) bt England 0. HT 1-0.

Australia 2 (Desmond Abbott 2) bt Pakistan 1 (Sohail Abbas) HT 0-1.

Tuesday's matches:

Germany v New Zealand (4.35 p.m.); Netherlands v Korea (6.35 p.m.); Argentina v Canada (8.35 p.m.).

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