| India goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan fails to stop Jamie Dwyer netting the equaliser in Perth Sunday. Baljit Singh Dhillon had given India the lead. (AFP)
Perth: India squandered an early lead and conceded two goals in the last five minutes to suffer a 1-2 defeat against Australia in the final of the three-nation invitational hockey meet here on Sunday.
Dominating the proceedings from the beginning, India took the lead in the 12th minute when veteran striker Baljit Singh Dhillon converted a short corner.
Despite outshining the hosts for most part of the game, the visitors failed to hold their nerve when it mattered most — conceding two goals in the dying minutes.
First it was Jamie Dwyer who equalised from a short corner in the 65th minute before Michael McCann scored an opportunistic goal a minute before the final whistle to notch up a thrilling win for the home side.
The rain-marred match witnessed much drama in the dying moments when a charging Kanwalpreet Singh failed to clear a Nathan Eglington shot near the goalmouth as he slipped in a bid to stop the ball.
McCann, waiting near the post, wasted no time in banging in the winner much to the delight of the home crowd.
A disappointed Indian coach Rajinder Singh said after the match that despite the loss his team deserves praise for playing brilliantly throughout the tournament.
“We played really well though we were unfortunate to concede the goal in the last moment. I am quite happy with the way the boys played today,” he said.
This was India’s second loss against Australia in the four-team competition.
India, looking confident after their 2-0 win against arch-rivals Pakistan on Saturday, called the shots in the first half as they denied their rival strikers, particularly Tory Elder and Eglington, any space to play.
“Though we are putting stress on playing aggressively, the defenders did their job pretty well. They gave the confidence to the strikers to make their move without worrying much about the counter-attacks,” said Rajinder Singh.
The visitors, playing an attacking game from the beginning, created few opportunities and dominated the game throughout the first half and most part of the second half. Just before Dhillon’s goal, India muffed up an opportunity to take the lead when Gagan Ajit Singh shot straight at goalkeeper Mark Hickman.
Australia also came close to scoring when Dwyer hit wide after Eglington had done all the spadework.
The hosts had to wait for 53 minutes to get the equaliser. Their increasingly frantic search ended when a short corner routine gave Dwyer the chance to hit high over keeper Devesh Chauhan.
The two teams will proceed to Sydney along with Pakistan and Australia A for the second leg of the meet, which will begin on Wednesday. The Indian coach said he was confident of his team performing better at Sydney.
“I am satisfied with the performance today though we lost the match. The players are playing really well at the moment but we need to improve in certain areas. We are working on that aspect.
Pakistan finish last
Earlier, Grant Schubert scored twice for Australia A as Pakistan crashed to their fourth successive defeat to finish last in the tournament.
In the third place play-off at the Perth hockey stadium, Pakistan squandered a 1-0 lead to lose the tie 1-2 after Schubert scored his goals within two minutes late into the second half.
Pakistan finished winless. Pakistan took the lead in the 50th minute through Mohammed Saqlain before Schubert, settled the issue with two goals in the 65th and 67th minutes.