Hockey World Cup: India ‘choke’ against New Zealand amid high drama to exit title race | Hockey News

BHUBANESWAR: An Indian team in utter disbelief choked amid high drama at the Hockey World Cup here on Sunday, as New Zealand stunned the hosts in sudden-death shootout (5-4) to move into the quarterfinals and relegated the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist to play the placement matches in Rourkela.
Leading twice by two goals — 2-0 first and then 3-1, the Indian defence failed to withstand the pressure exerted by New Zealand who beat India at their own game to come back and end the 60 minutes level at 3-3.
As it happened: India vs New Zealand
The penalty shootout also ended 3-3, and the game entered sudden death, after veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh made a hat-trick of saves and the crowd at the Kalinga Stadium slowly moved to the edge of their seats and waited with bated breath.
Sreejesh brought the hosts back single-handedly, saving New Zealand’s last two attempts in regular shootout against Sam Lane and Sam Hiha to keep India in the hunt and then got injured, but not before saving the first one-on-one sudden death attempt by the Black Sticks’ skipper Nic Woods.
India captain Harmanpreet Singh had the golden opportunity to seal the game, but his poor form from the pool stage didn’t leave him as he tried to slap the ball soon after entering the circle, which was easily saved by the NZ goalkeeper Leon Hayward, who had replaced Dominic Dixon in the post for the shootouts.

Harmanpreet, Rajkumar Pal and Sukhjeet Singh scored for India in the shootout, while Abhishek and Shamsher Singh failed to beat Hayward in the post.
India had to bring Krishan Pathak in the goal in place of injured Sreejesh, but once Sam Lane scored and Shamsher missed in sudden death, the New Zealand players pinched themselves before running to Hayward to celebrate the biggest upset of the World Cup so far. Before this New Zealand had only beaten Chile in the pool stage and lost to Netherlands and Malaysia.
Rajkumar was the only India who scored in the sudden death.
Earlier in regulation period, Lalit Upadhyay (18th minute), Sukhjeet Singh (25th) and Varun Kumar (41st) scored for India, while New Zealand’s comeback was scripted by Sam Lane (29th), Kane Russell (44th) and Sean Findlay (50th).
Questions will be raised: Why did India allow their two-goal lead to be erased twice? Why did the Indian defence buckle under pressure in the last 16 minutes? Why were four youngsters asked to handle the pressure of shootouts and the much experienced players like Manpreet Singh (318 caps) and Akashdeep Singh (222) were not among the five? Why is “creating opportunities” becoming a rhetoric in Indian hockey? Why weren’t we able to find a solution to our penalty corner woes for four matches in a row in a World Cup.

On Sunday as well, the team earned 11 penalty corners but could convert only two. And Harmanpreet Singh was once again a poor shadow of himself, failing to score on all drag-flicks he attempted. The team then is also answerable as to what exactly was former Netherlands penalty-corner specialist Bram Lomans’s inputs in the one-week camp he conducted last December.
New Zealand were down to 10 men for five of the last six minutes and 15 seconds when Nick Ross was shown a yellow card. But still it was the visitors who appeared the dominant team, despite a man short on the pitch.
Graham Reid was at a loss for words at the press conference when some of the above questions were shot at him by the media at the Kalinga Stadium.
“They got their second or third goal when we gave the ball back to them just after we had won it; it gave them an opportunity. At this level, you can’t do that.
India’s wait of 48 years to win a World Cup medal since winning the maiden trophy to date in 1975 will be beyond five decades when the next World Cup arrives in 2026. The question around that sorry piece of Indian hockey history put Reid in a spot.
“It’s an interesting and very good question. I don’t know the answer. I think at the end of the day, you have to keep practicing and keep creating opportunities,” said Reid.
“As far as drills, training, everything else is concerned, we do what all other teams do. I have been in this game for a long time and I know what other teams do. I don’t think there is necessarily a silver bullet. I think, following this, we will try and work out how to get a mental coach involved. We need to do something different perhaps.”

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