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A 50th minute goal by Edward Ockenden gave Olympic champions Australia a 1-0 victory over India in their opening Group A match of the eight-nation 16th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup men's hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Saturday.
Australia, pushed on the defensive in the first-half, showcased their bench strength after crossing-over, with Ockenden, playing in only his ninth international, getting a deflection to a Robert Hammond pass for the all-important goal.
Playing without seven of their World Cup stars, the Aussies, nevertheless, underlined the depth in talent to emerge winners.
But then, it was a match that India gifted to the 2006 World Cup runners-up, wasting at least half-a-dozen clear scoring chances.
Shivendra Singh, one of the better players in India's doomed World Cup campaign last year, repeatedly fumbled in front of the rival goal while Prabhjot Singh, Rajpal Singh and Tushar Khandkar were as guilty in blowing away scoring opportunities.
India played a pleasing game in the first-half as they contained the Australians with tight midfield marking. Even granting that the Aussies appeared listless, struggling to put together an effective move, the Indians still looked decidedly the superior side.
There was purpose and method in the Indian moves that were noticeable without over-dribbling, a trait that has been so much part of their game in the past.
First-time passing and quicker release of the ball helped them to sustain pressure on the Aussies while having more of ball possession.
In fact, the Indians began the proceedings on an aggressive note and twice came close to scoring in the opening eight minutes.
Left-winger Prabhjot Singh, making a comeback, latched on to a free ball inside the circle and quickly flicked to a well-positioned Khandkar. However, the experienced Bevan George came up with a timely interception to avert danger in the fifth minute.
Three minutes later, Rajpal got to a midfield deflection and raced into the circle from the right, but his shot to second angle was wide.
At the other end, the Australians did not make any impression barring a couple of penetrative moves, but the Indian deep defence was ever alert to repel the attacks. Full-back Harpal Singh was noticeably quick in covering and tackling.
With about a minute left for the half-time, the Indians launched a quick counter-attack on the right and Roshan Minz let fly a cross, but Khandekar, who was unmarked on the far post, failed to deflect the ball in.
On resumption, the Australians appeared more positive than they did in the first-half. A series of quick moves brought them within a whisker of scoring.
Schubert, virtually invisible in the first session, blasted two shots to goal. The first attempt in the 41st came off goalkeeper Baljit Singh for a penalty-corner, and past the 45th, he shot wide.
In between, Baljit came up with a fine save to deny Andrew Smith from the second penalty- corner.
The Aussies continued to press hard and struck in the 50th minute when Ockenden got a touch to Robert Hammond's free-hit. The Indian deep defence, for once, was caught flat-footed.
With the Aussies holding the upper hand, the Indians squeezed in a stray raid down the right in the 56th minute.
Khandekar laid a good pass to Shivendra Singh in front of the Aussie goal. But the forward failed to beat goalkeeper Stephen Lambert with two attempts.
Shivendra failed a third time in the 65th minute as he could not get to a through ball from Bimal Lakra and again, it was the sorry tale of Indian forwards failing to convert scoring chances.
Thereafter, the Aussies just about managed to nurse their slender lead to the finish, but their overall performance was far from impressive. As for the Indians, they did most of the running, but failed when it mattered most.
Pakistan rally to hold Malaysia
Pakistan fought back from a one-goal deficit to force a 2-2 draw with Malaysia in a Group B match.
Trailing 1-2 at half-time, Pakistan levelled the score on resumption and then saw off a late Malaysian blitz that did not result in any goals and only caused heartbreak for the capacity crowd.
In an exciting match marked by physical play, Malaysia led twice through goals by Zulkifi Rejab (6th minute) and Ismail Abu (29th) but the Pakistanis kept their nerves and banked on their experience and superior collective talent to stay in the match as Ehsan Ullah (13th) and Imran Warsi (42nd) scored.
The game swung from end to end and the pace did not slacken. Perhaps, the Malaysians paid the price for playing at a pace the Pakistanis relished rather than slowing down and keeping possession.
In the event, the crowd had plenty to shout about and their vociferous support seemed to lift the Malaysian team.
However, the home side's boundless enthusiasm was not matched by craft and it helped Pakistan to stay afloat.
Koreans scrape past Canada
Asian Games champions South Korea struggled to a 1-0 win against Canada in a Group B match.
The Korean match-winner came in the 44th minute when Jeong Yun Sang converted a penalty corner.
In a fast-paced encounter that saw the Canadians, number 16 in the world, matching their famed rivals in speed and moves. However, the Koreans, ranked sixth in the world, stepped on the throttle in the second-half to pick up three points.
Sunday's fixtures (IST):
Argentina vs Australia (1.35 pm)
Canada vs Malaysia (3.35 pm)
India vs China (5.35 pm).
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