Sydney: Half back Ignace Tirkey’s last-minute goal helped India salvage a 3-3 draw against Australia in the opening match of the second-leg of the invitational hockey meet on Wednesday.
India, who came here looking to avenge their loss in the first leg final in Perth last week, were trailing 2-3 till the 69th minute but levelled through Ignace’s field goal with just 35 seconds to go for the hooter.
Dhanraj Pillay (35th) and Prabhjot Singh (55th) were India’s other two scorers, while the hosts scored through Andrew Smith (19th & 34th) and Scott Webster (57th).
Though India came up with a much-improved performance in this game, it was Australia who dominated the first 25 minutes.
The Indians, clearly struggling to find their rhythm against the hostile Aussies, took some time before they started making forays at the rival goal.
India’s plans to stick to an attacking game, despite conceding the two goals, paid off when mercurial striker Pillay hit home to reduce the margin.
“Our style of play is clicking and today’s match proved that. We are improving with each outing and the boys’ performance today was much better than it was in Perth,” chief coach Rajinder Singh said.
After Pillay’s goal, India’s hopes for a win were rekindled when Prabhjot pumped in one 20 minutes into the second half to help India draw level at 2-2.
But the visitors’ joy was short-lived as Australia surged ahead again through Webster’s goal in the 57th minute.
However, the hosts failed to maintain the tempo as India started to exert pressure for the equaliser. With time running out, India made several desperate attempts for a goal, but were thwarted by the Australian defenders, who patrolled their area well.
India’s persistence finally paid dividends when Ignace hit home with just seconds left.
Young Ignace’s goal was the outcome of the combination of two veterans — Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon.
Despite managing just a draw, Rajinder said India did exactly what the Australians had done to them in the Perth final.
“We played very well and you cannot say that we were lucky to manage a draw. Rather it was Australia who were lucky to score at the last moment to win the title in Perth, which we dominated throughout,” he said.
India’s next match in the four-team competition is against Australia A on Thursday and they take on Pakistan on Saturday.
In the other match, Pakistan beat Australia A 1-0.