Ipoh: India’s hopes of qualifying for the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament went up in smoke after they crashed to their third defeat in the event, losing 0-2 to defending champions New Zealand in their must-win penultimate round-robin match here on Thursday.
Five-time champions India needed a victory to stay in the competition, instead it was the Black Sticks who scored two second half goals to keep their flag flying in the tournament.
New Zealand struck through Andy Hayward from their second penalty corner in the 40th minute before Cory Bennett took the match out of India’s reach, scoring the team’s second goal in the 55th minute.
Having won only one match (against Pakistan) out of the four they have played so far, India are out of the reckoning and will take on Malaysia in their last league fixture on Saturday.
It was New Zealand who had the first look at the Indian goal but forward Stephen Jenness' shot was kept away by in-form Indian goalkeeper P R Sreejesh. It was an evenly contested opening half with both India and New Zealand producing a couple of scoring chances, only to be denied by their respective defensive lines.
Indian custodian Sreejesh, in particular, was brilliant in the first half as he pulled off numerous saves, including a double save just 10 minutes from the break. After a barren opening half, the Indians made a lively start but it was the Black Sticks who had the first shot at the goal.
Hayward gave New Zealand the lead in the 40th minute from their second penalty corner with a powerful, angling low flick which beat Sreejesh all ends up.
In another match, Malaysia held Pakistan to a 2-2 draw. The draw means Pakistan, too, are out of the title race, along with India and Korea. Both Korea and Pakistan have four points from as many matches, while India could manage only three from four outings.
Hosts Malaysia and Australia are atop the leader-board with eight points each from from four matches. New Zealand, with six points from four outings, is the only other team in the race for a place in Sunday's summit clash.