It took 19 shots in the shootout and the sudden death to separate the two teams but in the end, the host was left ruing the multitude of what-ifs as it crashed out of the World Cup, going down 4-5 on penalties to New Zealand after being tied 3-3 in regulation time.
Worse, India lost PR Sreejesh for the last three shots with injury and although Krishan Pathak did his best, India’s attackers fumbled under pressure.
It was not the way the team would have imagined its medal hopes would end at home when it took a two-goal lead twice through the game, dominating the Black Sticks for long periods and creating chances upfront that went begging. It was a much-improved performance after the Welsh disappointment but it was not enough against a gritty New Zealand that set up a quarterfinal clash against reigning champion Belgium for its efforts.
The things coach Graham Reid had spoken about that needed work were improved. The forwards backed each other up but did not crowd in. The finishing was more on-target. But the elusive penalty corner conversions continued – India earned 10 and could only convert one, taken by Varun Kumar. Harmanpreet Singh, the talismanic Indian captain and its best hope to advance, was expected to finally come good but his woes continued – including missing a key shot in the shootout. New Zealand, on the other hand, was two-in-two with its PCs in a space of six minutes.
India’s second-half woes also continued, surprising given its dominance in the first. In fact, India got increasingly error-prone in the defence as the game progressed, conceding turnovers and mis-passing towards the end. India started strongly and despite an opening attack from New Zealand, took control and had its first shot at goal in the 7th minute itself. It kept pushing into the opposition circle from either flank and the forwards, despite missing a few chances, were more in the right positions compared to their previous outing.
A steal in the Indian 25-yard area by Harmanpreet initiated India’s first goal, a long through ball to Akashdeep Singh, sending it to Shamsher before the latter sent a perfectly placed cross to Upadhyay, who took it on the run, took his time to get into position and slammed it into the board in the 18th minute. India looked to have doubled the lead five minutes later off back-to-back penalty corners but Nilakanta Sharma’s 3rd-shot rebound was cancelled for a backstick from Abhishek in the final pass. Two minutes after, though, Sukhjeet slotted in a rebound off another PC and this time there was no confusion.
India also paid the price for ignoring the key danger men for New Zealand and they all came good at crunch. Veteran Simon Child had been expected to feed Sam Lane and create PCs for Kane Russell and he was everywhere for NZ. Inexplicably, the Indians time and again left him alone and the former took full advantage, repeatedly setting up the latter, creating the PC that Russell converted and making quite a few goalline saves during India’s PCs.
India coach Graham Reid had warned New Zealand would come out full pressing ahead and that’s what the Black Sticks did. They had a few chances themselves with Child being the chief creator of them all for Lane. It was finally a combination of the two, initiated by Sean Findlay, that saw New Zealand pull one back in the 29th minute to go into half-time high on confidence. It continued the momentum and took charge of the 3rd quarter before India fought back in the fourth to no avail. The host will now have to travel back to Rourkela for the 9-16 classification games.
The result: New Zealand (Sam Lane, Kane Russell, Sean Findlay) bt India 3 (Lalit Upadhyay, Sukhjeet Singh, Varun Kumar) on penalties.
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