Ipoh (Malaysia), May 12: India's medal hopes in the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament went up in smoke as New Zealand rode on a penalty corner hattrick by Andrew Hayward to humiliate the title holders 7-3 in their last round-robin league match here today.
India squandered the lead thrice before Hayward produced a hat-trick of drag-flicked goals to put the Black Sticks in command and spoil India's chance of claiming a medal in the event, which they won outright in 2009 and were joint champions along with South Korea last year. By virtue of this loss, India slipped to the fifth position in the seven-team round-robin league table, which is being headed by world champions Australia, who defeated Great Britain 2-1 earlier in the day.
Five-time Azlan Shah Cup winners, Australia now have 13 points from five games and are assured of a place in Sunday's summit clash with one league match still to go against New Zealand.
However, Australia's opponent in the final will only be decided on Saturday as Great Britain, Pakistan and New Zealand all have a chance of making it to the title clash. But with nine points each in their kitty, Great Britian and Pakistan are slightly better placed than the Black Sticks. For New Zealand to qualify for the final, they will first have to beat Australia on Saturday and hope other two contenders—Great Britain and Pakistan—lose their last league matches.
India's opponent for Sunday's classification playoffs will also be decided on Saturday.
Hayward's hat-trick of penalty corner goals came in the space of 14 minutes midway through the second session when the Indian defence again caved in under pressure. To add to it, two speedy field goals by Blair Hilton and one strike each from Nicholas Wilson and Shay Neal gave New Zealand their biggest win ever against India. For India, Gurwinder Singh Chandi scored two field goals after S V Sunil had opened the scoring. India drew first blood in the 20th minute through an outstanding goal by Sunil, who latched on to a long diagonal ball from Ravipal Singh on top of the circle and slotted home past the onrushing goalkeeper.
New Zealand equalised four minutes later when Wilson capitalised on Arun Panchia's pass into the scoring zone. India were in front again in the 26th minute when Chandi tapped in Roshan Minz's cross from the right corner. But New Zealand equalised six minutes later after Steven Edwards found out an unmarked Hilton inside the circle and he had all the time to turn around and shoot past onrushing Indian custodian Bharat Chetri.
India went ahead for the third time in the match when Chandi another six minutes into the second half. Chandi dribbled into the scoring zone from the right flank and flicked past the goalkeeper when the defenders were expecting him to pass the ball to other strikers inside the circle.
But drag-flicker Hayward then produced a three-goal burst that startled the Indian defence, converting penalty corners in the 44th, 53rd and 57th minutes to give the Black Sticks a 5-3 lead.
A terrible defensive lapse by Dhananjay Mahadik in the 58th minute saw him lose a back-pass inside the scoring zone to Neal, who duly slotted the ball into the boards. Hilton then rounded off the scoring for New Zealand with a flash strike in the 63rd minute.
In an earlier match, world champions Australia defeated Great Britain 2-1 in their penultimate round-robin league match to enter the final.
Australia, who in 2010 became the first team to win the World Cup, Champions Trophy and Commonwealth Games in the same year, opened the scoring through a penalty corner conversion by Brent Dancer in the eighth minute.
Christopher Ciriello then scored in the 29th minute to see Australia go into the breather with a 2-0 lead.
Great Britain, however, reduced the margin in the 57th minute when drag-flicker Richard Mantell converted a penalty corner. PTI