FIH Pro League 2020: In what turned out to be an absorbing encounter, the hosts India missed sharing honours and taking its opening encounter against the defending champions Australia to penalty shootout. India lost 3-4 for its second defeat in the FIH Pro League 2020.
Australia’s strategy of taking early lead and sustaining the lead throughout worked very well while India, on the other hand, stormed back into the game only in the fourth and final quarter, scoring two of of its three goals.
For the home team the real hero was Raj Pal who scored two goals while drag flicker Rupinder Pal Singh scored the third and final goal for his team. Lachlan Sharp of Australia was adjudged the man of the match.
Two goals in the opening six minutes of the final quarter saw India move to within one of the reigning FIH Hockey Pro League champions. In the 52nd minute, Rupinder Singh was the scorer, sending a low penalty corner drag-flick crashing against the Kookaburras board.
In the 51st minute when Australia got a penalty corner, Indian defence stood firm, with Jeremy Hayward’s drag-flick being charged down by the onrushing defenders.
India were playing a high press for much of this fourth quarter and looked exceptionally dangerous. With India pushing players forward, Australia was looking to hit its opponents on the counter-attack.
Thirty seconds into the fourth quarter, India reduced the deficit with an absolutely sensational open play strike from Raj, who scored his second of the game. Raj entered the circle from the right before crashing a blistering effort in off the left post. Unstoppable.
Australia was now running riot here. Another rapid break forward from the Kookaburras in the 43rd minute was finished off by Jacob Anderson,as his cross-shot from the left squirmed under the body of Vivek to open up a 4-1 lead.
Australia restore their two-goal advantage, with Lachlan Sharp finding the target, getting ahead of his man to slap home a first time effort in the 41st minute.
Australia have sparked back into life since conceding, and got its first penalty corner of the match, but Corey Weyer’s drag-flick was kicked clear by Indian goalkeeper Krishan Pathak.
India pulled a goal back. Rupinder saw his initial drag-flick saved by Australia goalkeeper Andrew Charter, but Raj Kumar Pal volleyed home the rebound on the backhand. Australia challenged the goal asking for a video referral, but the goal was upheld.
In the 35th minute, India got its first penalty corner. It was brilliantly thwarted by Jake Harvie, who charged out to block an attempted drag-flick by Rupinder Singh. It was an excellent interception by Jake Harvie.
A goal in the sixth minute by Dylan Wotherspoon showed ruthless streak of the Kangaroos with their first chance of the game Dylan deflected home from close range after an excellent break forward from Aran Zelewski.
Australia was in control of the first quarter though India tried to respond to Wotherspoon’s opener, but Australia’s defensive unit looked extremely confident, playing with control and discipline to nullify the potent attacking threat posed by the hosts.
In the 13th minute, India’s Lalit missed a chance. A searching cross from the right found Lalit in the circle, but the ball hit his foot directly in front of goal.
India conceded its second goal in the 18th minute. Tom Wickham doubled Australia’s advantage with a cool finish from close range, tapping home a perfectly weighted pass from Eddie Ockenden. All was going well to the plan for the Kookaburras. Both teams were playing with ten players after green card two minute suspensions to Jake Whetton and Manpreet Singh
Australia were doing their best to deny the Indian players time on the ball, and it was a tactic that was working very well indeed. The Kookaburras were forcing numerous errors from the home favourites, and were well worth their 2-0 lead till the interval.
Earlier, In the 22nd minute, India got a penalty corner, but Australia disputed the award, saying that an India shot on goal hit a stick rather than the foot of a Kookaburras player. The video umpire agreed with the Australians, and the decision was overturned.
Speaking to TV commentator Charlie Brougham, Great Britain striker Sam Ward was full of admiration for Australia’s performance in the first half.
“Australia were class out there”, said Ward. “The way they are moving the ball around today is just top class, and India are going to have to do something pretty crazy to come back into this game.”
We shall see if they can do it!
When the game started, both teams were looking organised and cancelling each other out in these early stages. There were hardly any chances to speak of in the opening five minutes.
In terms of the standings, this has been a potentially massive weekend for India. Two wins could have seen them move level on points with Belgium at the top of the standings, but against the mighty Kookaburras, that would be easier said than done. And India lost the first game. Two Australia wins could see the defending champions climb to second spot in the table.