Ipoh (Malaysia): Young striker Nikkin Thimmaiah's hat-trick inspired India to a stunning 4-2 victory over reigning world hockey champions Australia in their last league match of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup here on Saturday.
This victory not only restored some pride for the eight-time Olympic champions, who were coming off a scrappy performance in the four matches, but also helped them finish fourth till the league phase of the 24th edition of the tournament played at the Azlan Shah Stadium.
Thus, world No.9 India will play the bronze medal match against South Korea in the six-nation tournament.
The Asian Games champions had lost to lower ranked Malaysia and New Zealand, while edging past minnows Canada 5-3 and playing a 2-2 draw against South Korea.
But on Friday, they got off to a perfect start. They raided the two-time defending champions' citadel in the first minute and were rewarded with a penalty corner that was successfully converted by V.R. Raghunath.
Australia battled back in the 14th minute through Daniel Beale’s cool finish after receiving Trent Mitton’s pass inside the box.
Midway through the second period, Nikkin netted the first of a hat-trick of goals when India turned over possession inside the Kookaburras circle. The Karnataka forward slotted home unopposed in the 23rd minute to give India the 2-1 lead.
Two minutes into the third quarter, Gurbaj Singh passed the ball to Manpreet Singh on the right flank and the latter passed it to Nikkin who smacked the ball into the crossbar in the 32nd minute for his brace.
Having fallen two goals down in the third quarter, Matt Gohdes gave Australia hope of a comeback seven minutes from time but Nikkin’s hat-trick goal in the final minute completed the result.
Throughout the match, both Australian goalkeepers -- Tristan Clemons and Leon Hayward pulled off a number of saves to keep the score down while their Indian counterpart P.R. Sreejesh denied Nick Budgeon from a penalty corner.