The Indian men's hockey team suffered a 2-3 defeat at the hands of New Zealand in a hard-fought encounter of the Four-Nations Invitational Tournament here on Saturday.
India knew that they would have to do most of the attacking in the opening periods of the game. The first quarter followed that pattern, India dominating the possession statistics, and creating several circle penetrations but unable to offer clear opportunities on goal.
In fact it was New Zealand who came closest, off a reverse hit from the top of the box by Nick Ross seemingly headed to the bottom corner. Akash Chikte was alert to the danger though, smartly saving to ensure the scores stayed level. India's opportunity came off a penalty corner, and Rupinder Pal Singh's flick was heading into the board before a last ditch save by the Black Sticks Captain Shea McAleese meant the two teams went into the first break locked in a stalemate.
India picked up the pace in the second quarter, and started pressing high up the pitch every time they lost the ball. It paid dividends in the 18th minute, as Akashdeep Singh robbed New Zealand of the ball near the circle and drove in, only for the attack to be smothered by George Enersen. Off the rebound, Akashdeep struck a first time shot on goal, but the ball caught the foot of Kane Russell, resulting in a stroke for India. Rupinder Pal Singh made no mistake from the spot, dispatching the ball into the bottom left to give India the lead.
India kept up the momentum after taking the lead. The goal meant New Zealand now had to come out of their shell and create the attacks and open up the game. The shift increased the influence of Sardar Singh in India's midfield as he was afforded a lot of space to steer India's game. The teams went into half time with India leading 1-0.
In the third quarter, the teams went at each other with furious attacking intent, and again it was Chikte's agility that prevented New Zealand from scoring an equaliser. A long cross field ball found Matt Rees-Gibbs at the far post and simple contact would've seen it sound the board. Chikte though dived at full stretch to block away the attempt and kept India in the lead. Nikkin Thimmaiah had an attempt from the top of the box, after a superb bit of improvisation, but saw his effort sail high. India led 1-0 going into the final break.
In an action packed final quarter, New Zealand hit back with two quick goals, first via Nick Ross in the 47th minute, before Jacob Smith gave them the lead in the next minute.
India now had it all to do, and as they started creating attacking opportunities, New Zealand got a third via Hugo Inglis in the 57th minute. Rupinder Pal Singh pulled one back with a penalty corner conversion almost from the restart to take the game to New Zealand. He now has five goals in the tournament.
In the final minutes, India created several opportunities to draw level, but New Zealand held on for a 3-2 win.
India will now lock horns with Malaysia for the third and fourth place on Sunday.