S. Thyagarajan

Boom (Belgium): On a grey afternoon when thick clouds hung like a canopy, opening now and then, leaving the pitch inundated at this beautiful sports complex, India suffered a second-half set back when the Kiwis made the best of the gruelling playing conditions in the men’s hockey Champions Challenge on Saturday.

Inarguably, everything from the weather to playing surface was demanding. They were anything but ideal to project the nuances of hockey, reducing the contest to a competition between sinew and skill.

The Kiwis, tough, plucky and forcing the pace in the final quarter after being held goalless in the first, emerged to take full points.

It was a disappointing outcome, especially for the die-hard enthusiasts who had braved the weather conditions to drive into city from London and Amsterdam.

India’s frontline

The frailty for India lay on this day was its innocuous frontline work. True, the mobility of the forwards was restricted, cramped by the heavy underfoot conditions. But there was little effort to co-ordinate the work in the rival area. Wing play was deficient, what with a veteran like Prabhjot Singh failing to come up with anything worthwhile.

With the key attacker Shivendra Singh sidelined — “we chose the best 16,” remarked the chief coach —the attack perforce had to lean on the inconsistent Rajpal Singh and Rohan Minz. So the burden of keeping the scoreboard intact fell heavily on the defence, which, to be fair, functioned with a measure of confidence till the last quarter of the contest. The pick was wing-half Gurabaj Singh with Prabodh Tirkey rendering some assistance.

Late in the contest came Xalco with some neat saves. When the defence, especially goalkeeper, Adrian D’Souza, survived some tense moments early in the second when the Kiwis forced three penalty corners in a row. Goalkeeper Adrian made at least two good saves to keep the Kiwis at bay. But subsequently, the defence wilted. India had a penalty corner in each session, but Sandeep Singh, playing after a long gap after an injury, did not succeed. Quite predictably, the Kiwis were elated by the result. They stayed on course almost throughout. Supported well by a hard-working midfield where Ryan Archbald and Brad Shaw were prominent, the Kiwis waited for their turn and seized the chances delectably. The penalty corner goal by Hayden Shaw exemplified the effect of a drag flick, and the second, almost synchronised with the final whistle, resulted from a good bout of passing between Phil Burrows and David Kasoof who scored.

Japan beats Belgium

An impeccable penalty corner shot by Yamabori gave Japan full points against the home team Belgium by the odd goal in three in the second match.

Belgium struck midway in the first half through Charles Vandeweghe, but Japan slotted the equaliser through Ryuji Fursato within two minutes. Yamaboris perfect shot came as a blow for the host.

The scores: The results: New Zealand 2 (Hayden Shaw, David Kasoof) bt India 0; Japan 2 (Fursato, Yamabori) bt Belgium 1 (Charles Vandeweghe) HT 1-1.

Sundays matches: Japan vs. New Zealand (5.30 p.m.); Argentina vs. Belgium (7.45 p.m.); India vs. England (10.15 p.m.).

More In: SPORT | Today's Paper