Ipoh (Malaysia): Sloppy defending cost India dearly as they conceded a late goal to go down 1-2 against a higher-ranked New Zealand in their second league match of the 24th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, here today.
Despite enjoying better possession and ball control, India paid the price for letting their guard down when put under pressure and succumbed to their first loss.
For New Zealand, it was their second straight victory in the six-nation tournament at the Azlan Shah Stadium.
After a barren opening half, New Zealand took the lead in the 38th minute through a field goal from skipper Simon Child before Andy Hayward (55th) converted a late penalty corner to hand India's chief coach Paul van Ass his first defeat after taking charge of the team.
India's lone goal came from the stick of striker Akashdeep Singh in the 43rd minute. By virtue of this win, New Zealand have garnered maximum six points from two outings, while India have only one point from as many games.
Contrary to the final outcome, the Indians looked far more organised and coordinated today compared to the tournament-opener against Korea yesterday.
India controlled the game for most part of the opening 30 minutes, but just lost the rhythm in the last 10 minutes of the opening half.
However, it was the Black Sticks who had the first shy at the goal in the fourth minute but Hugo Inglis missed an open chance as he shot wide with only India goalkeeper P R Sreejesh to beat.
Just when the match was settling into a good pace, heavy showers lashed the stadium, forcing the umpires to stop the match.
After the nearly 10-minute rain interruption, the match resumed and India had their first real scoring opportunity in the 14th minute, which an unmarked Ramandeep Singh squandered by hitting straight to the pads of New Zealand goalkeeper Devon Manchester.
Two minutes into the second quarter, India earned their first penalty corner of the match but wasted the opportunity as Manpreet Singh failed to stop the ball cleanly.
The Indians, however, lost the momentum midway into the second quarter as the Black Sticks exerted pressure on the Indian defence to earn their first penalty corner but wasted the opportunity.
A minute from the end of the second quarter, Shay Neal's feeble try was easily kept away by Sreejesh as both the teams failed to break the deadlock at halftime. Just after the change of ends, Akashdeep pushed a Nikki Thimmaiah pass straight to New Zealand custodian Manchster.
New Zealand secured their second penalty corner in the ensuing attack but yet again they were off target. New Zealand finally managed to break the deadlock in the 38th minute when Child deflected in Neal's pass from a goalmouth melee.
India drew level after V R Raghunath's initial try from their second penalty corner was saved by Manchester.
India had another scoring opportunity five minutes later when they secured their third penalty corner but once again Manpreet failed to stop the ball cleanly.
Put under pressure by the Black Sticks, the fragile Indian defence conceded a costly penalty corner in the 55th minute, New Zealand's third, and Hayward was bang on target with a powerful flick to the left of an outstretched Sreejesh in front of the Indian goal.
Thereafter, the Black Sticks fell back and defended in numbers to thwart any danger to their citadel. After a rest day tomorrow, India will next play hosts Malaysia on April 8 while New Zealand will face lowly Canada.
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