Hockey WC: India beat Wales but fail to top pool, will meet NZ in crossovers

BHUBANESWAR: With the scoreboard pressure clearly telling on India after England’s comfortable win over Spain, the home team succumbed and was almost held by Men’s Hockey World Cup debutants Wales, until Akashdeep Singh rescued the hosts with a stunning goal and skipper Harmanpreet Singh finally opened his account off a drag-flick for a 4-2 win at the Kalinga Stadium.
The result meant India finished second in Pool D and will now face the anxiety of a crossover game against New Zealand for a place in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, England earned a direct qualification to the last-eight by topping the pool, level on points with India but ahead on goal difference. England finished with a goal difference of +9 while India had +4.
England’s 4-0 victory over the Spaniards earlier in the day meant India needed to win by a margin of eight goals against Wales, but a goal-less first quarter was not the start coach Graham Reid would have wanted.

Shamsher broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute with a rebound during a penalty-corner set-piece that was foiled by the Wales rushers, only to give a second chance that fell at the stick of Shamsher. Akashdeep was then nicely set up by Mandeep in the 33rd minute to double India’s lead.
However, Wales silenced the capacity crowd by striking twice in three minutes. First it was Gareth Furlong in the 43rd minute off a penalty corner and then Jacob Draper in the 45th minute off a PC as well.
As it happened
That followed a moment of delight for the old-timers when Sukhjeet Singh sent the ball minus behind him on the right flank after crossing the 23-yard line to set up Akashdeep for his second goal — a brilliant tomahawk from the top of the circle to make it 3-2.
The wait for a goal off the drag-flicks of Harmanpreet finally ended when he sounded the board in the 60th minute to seal the victory, but not with a scoreline India needed for a direct spot in the quarters.

Wales sat back for most part of the match, crowding the Indian strikers in their circle, frustrating them and eventually forcing mistakes.
Akashdeep played the role of lurking striker up front, creating spaces and pouncing on every possible opportunity. But the Welsh ploy of tacking Indian strikers in twos and threes led to India’s circle entries ending in frustration as the game didn’t see any goal in the first 15 minutes.
Credit must be given to England goalkeeper Toby Reynolds-Cotterill, who stood betwen the Indian shots and their effort to win by an eight-goal margin. He covered angles brilliantly as the Indian shots thudded into Toby’s pads on many occasions.
“Their goalkeeper played really well,” Akashdeep told on the sidelines after the match. “They were defending right from the first moment, were tackling in numbers.”

India led 1-0 at half-time, and the chances they created could have easily added two if not more goals to the scoreline. Perhaps on another day, with no pressure of winning by a certain margin, the number of missed scoring opportunities would not have been that much.
The absence of attacking midfielder Hardik Singh was felt more in the midfield than in attack. That split second extra he always has about his moves with a calm mind has always given an edge to India’s forays into the opponent’s half.
He watched the match from the bench, nursing a strained hamstring that he suffered in the game against England.
“We will probably have to make a decision on (Hardik) on the 21st (January) as to will he be able to go further. He has been improving over the last 3-4 days, getting better and beter each day. So fingers rossed,” coach Reid told reporter after the match.

India’s crossover opponents New Zealand were beaten by Malaysia on Thursday in an exciting game that ended 3-2 in favour of the Asian nation.
Reid felt the Black Sticks may come out “energized” like the Welshmen.
“We have now got a crossover game versus New Zealand. That’s going to be tough. We have played them here and in the Pro League. Our first (Pro League) game aginst them was tough, second was a bit easier. They will come out like Wales did today, energized. Looking forward to Sunday,” said the India coach.

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