How did India get knocked out of the Hockey World Cup they are hosting, even before the quarterfinal, against a team ranked lower?
In the group stage of the ongoing Hockey World Cup, New Zealand had been a more underperforming team than India. In the three matches, they had scored less goals than India and conceded more, struggling to penetrate the circle against lesser ranked teams like Malaysia and Chile. They finished third in their group while India were second with no losses.
But New Zealand needed one good match to make it to quarterfinals and that came against hosts India on Sunday.
For all the talk about hockey having a weird format with crossovers, New Zealand made it count when it mattered. Graham Reid’s India suffered an embarrassing loss in the shootout to get knocked out of the tournament.
The result seemed fitting, because the way India played in their first knockout match, they didn’t deserve to win either. The hosts faltered at big moments repeatedly, both during the regulation time and the shootout which stretched to a second one of five shots each.
Here’s a look at exactly how India fluffed the key moments:
Conceding goals at the wrong time
Before New Zealand, irony hit India hard. In the whole tournament, India’s defence had stood up and stood out. They kept back-to-back clean sheets against Spain and England. In fact, it was in the attack that India were finding it tough. On Sunday though, the goals came but goals were not stopped.
Three times they scored, but also conceded thrice. And all the wrong time.
Lalit Upadhyay and Sukhjeet Singh put India 2-0 up ahead in the second quarter. The momentum was with them so it was important to close out the first half and maintain the two-goal lead.
A minute was left on the clock for the break when India conceded. Sam Lane made no mistake from a close range. It annoyed Reid so much that he spoke about it at the half-time interview with broadcasters.
Then, after going 3-1 up in the third quarter, India gave away another goal just two minutes before the end. Kane Russell converted his chance from the penalty corner. Again letting New Zealand into the game at the wrong time.
Disaster of a final quarter
A quarter to go and scored level at 3-3. At a time when Indian players had to maintain focus and avoid mistakes, they did the opposite.
New Zealand, who knew they were still in the game, played their best hockey of this World Cup in the final 15 minutes. They exploited the space in the Indian midfield to maximum effect. They dominated the proceedings and got the goal thanks to Sean Findlay’s brilliant finish from a penalty corner, New Zealand’s only second PC of the match.
From 1-3 down to 3-3. In fact, they should’ve won the match in the final second if not for Krishan Pathak’s save off Sam Lane.
Keeping Mandeep out
The day started with the good news that Mandeep Singh was fit to play after an injury scare the previous day in training. While it was expected that Reid might manage his minutes, it was still baffling to see him sit out for the majority of the final quarter. He came in when the final quarter started and then left after playing a few minutes. He then waited on the sidelines to come in but had to stand there for almost five minutes.
Mandeep is known for his goals and assists in the final quarter. He has been playing well in the last couple of matches and this was New Zealand, against whom he scored 11 goals in 21 matches.
When the team was struggling, they needed their senior forward on the pitch. When he finally came in with two odd minutes remaining, New Zealand had already equalised.
Not taking advantage of 10-men New Zealand
In the 53rd minute, Nick Ross was shown a yellow card and a five-minute suspension. This was a big opportunity for India to take the extra man advantage. Instead of going for an all-out attack approach, India struggled to even create chances.
To be fair, New Zealand deserve a lot of credit for how they managed the last quarter with 10 men. Their players were winning the tackles, intercepting the ball at key positions and picking the right passes.
Findlay, one of the young sensations in the game, absolutely bossed the whole match. He ran the show, especially in the final quarter, which is one of the major reasons why New Zealand didn’t panic when they were down to 10.
Harmanpreet’s bizarre miss in the shootout
India needed two saves from PR Sreejesh to stay alive in the shootout. Lane missed and then Sreejesh pulled off a terrific save to take the match into sudden death. And Sreejesh saved again off Nic Woods, to give India the advantage in the sudden death.
It was now up to Harmanpreet to win it for India. He needed to bank on all his experience and talent to beat Leon Hayward. In fact, he already did it once in the shootout.
But instead of dribbling and taking his time, Harmanpreet came up with a bizarre hit from top of the circle. Hayward saved and kept New Zealand alive. A miss that would come back to haunt very soon.
What’s next for India?
India will now head to Rourkela to play 9-16 classification matches. They will play Japan on 26 November and if they win, they’ll play their next match on the 28th.
The World Cup is not yet over for Harmanpreet and Co, but the dream is.