The Indian junior men’s hockey team remained on course to defend their title with a stunning 6-2 triumph over New Zealand that put them in the semi-finals of the 2023 Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia on Monday.
Amandeep Lakra (2’, 7’, 35’), Arun Sahani (12’, 53’) and Poovanna Chandura Boby (52’) got on the scoresheet for India, while Luke Aldred (29’, 60’) scored a brace for New Zealand.
Riding on their success in the previous outing where they beat hosts Malaysia 3-1, India made a positive start against New Zealand. Their intent to win was evident when they earned a PC in the opening minute of the match. Lakra was on target to capitalise from the early opportunity, flicking the ball powerfully past the New Zealand goalkeeper Luke Elmes, and earning a confidence-inducing 1-0 lead in the 2nd minute.
The pressure continued to pile on New Zealand in the following moments with India picking up yet another PC in the 7th minute. Lakra remained the centre of India’s PC attack, stepping up again to unleash a fierce flick to double India’s lead. The defending champions remained persistent in testing New Zealand’s defence as they scored their third goal in the 12th minute – thanks to Arun Sahani’s cross from the left wing deflecting off Luke Elmes into the goal.
With a formidable 3-0 lead, India started the second quarter in a similar fashion with captain Uttam Singh leading India’s charge in the forward line; setting up a skilful one-on-one tackle with the goalie. However, he was unable to put it past Elmes.
Later in the quarter New Zealand tried to regain their footing in the game when Sam Lints showcased brilliant stick work in the attacking circle but India’s defence proved too strong to breach. New Zealand were finally able to score that elusive first goal when Aldred converted a fine PC in the 29th minute.
Determined to build on their lead, India made an attacking start in the third quarter. Their efforts resulted in a PC and Lakra struck his third to complete a stunning hat-trick. The 35th-minute goal put India in command with a 4-1 lead. Halfway through the quarter, though, New Zealand looked to answer back as Daniel Torr dodged a couple of Indian defenders in the circle, but India’s custodian Mohith H.S. remained alert, rushing out to unsettle the forward and force a miss.
New Zealand began the last quarter with hope to bounce back in the game but the Indian defence remained resolute. Meanwhile, Indian attackers continued to showcase disciplined structure as they created crucial chances that would fetch two more goals this quarter. In the 52nd minute, Boby scored India’s fifth goal through a PC while Sahani struck his second goal in the 53rd minute taking India’s lead to 6-1.
With seconds left in the game, an infringement by India’s defence meant New Zealand would get a final go at the goal and Aldred ensured he was on point, putting the ball past Mohith with a well-executed flick. But the goal did little to stop India from marching into the semi-final of the Johor Cup, to be played on November 3.