Indian men’s team’s quest for a gold in the Commonwealth Games came to an end on Friday against New Zealand, where they defeated 2-3 in the semi-finals.
India’s lackadaisical defence was ruthlessly cut open by their opponents in the first quarter, where they conceded two goals. A bruised Indian side made a stirring comeback in the second half with Harmanpreet Singh once again showing his drag-flick prowess. Ultimately, it was India’s wastefulness that was their downfall: only two of their 18 shots were on target.
In reply, New Zealand took seven shots and converted three of them. India will fight it out against either Australia or England for a bronze medal.
A clinical New Zealand tore into a meek Indian defence. Hugo Inglis on the left flank almost had a free run before unleashing a lethal shot from a close angle in only the sixth minute. A goalkeeper of PR Sreejesh’s pedigree and class should have been quicker in closing the shot down.
India went 0-2 down as the clock ticked towards the close of the first quarter. Minutes later, space once again opened up far too easily for the Black Sticks and they were ruthless in front of goal. Stephen Jenness easily got the better of Sreejesh and New Zealand were flying. India had failed to cash in on their sole opportunity – a penalty stroke – from Harmanpreet Singh as early as the third minute.
But Manpreet Singh and Co put in an improved display in the second quarter. The midfielders were pressing more aggressively to win the ball back and Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, and Dilpreet Singh were increasingly making a nuisance of themselves in the New Zealand circle.
There was salvation for India with barely a minute left till the end of the first half as skipper Arun Panchia committed a careless foul. India were initially awarded a penalty corner, which in turn became a penalty stroke: Harmanpreet Singh made no mistake from the spot seconds before the buzzer went off.
The second-half saw the Indians throw flood the circle with great gusto. The forward trio of Akashdeep, Dilpreet and Mandeep created a host of opportunities. On the attack, Kiwis created half-chances of their own. Luck deserted India as Kane Russell and Varun Kumar came together just inside the Indian circle. After much deliberation during the referral, New Zealand were awarded a corner. Russell, whose game nearly ended early in the third quarter after a clash of legs with Manpreet, turned architect for his side’s third goal.
With a smart dive, Sreejesh kept out the penalty corner, but from a congested area, Russell managed to scoop the ball towards Marcus Child who dabbed the ball home to give his side a two-goal cushion.
The final quarter saw slapdash hockey from both teams. India were culpable of not creating opportunities from promising situations yet again. Sreejesh gave his team a chance with a point-blank save. With three minutes left, Harmanpreet scored his second but there was no late drama this time. New Zealand’s defence were simply too robust to collapse. The Kiwis chase their first Commonwealth gold.