Defending champion New Zealand eked out a 2-1 win over India to keep their slim final chances alive at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh.
India, whose last appearance in the final was in 2010, can make the final if they beat hosts Malaysia in their final group match on Friday.
India had shared the title with Korea in 2010 after the final match was rained out.
New Zealand’s coach Colin Batch said that they had managed their game well today and keeping possession was the key in today’s match.
“In international hockey, possession is important. We allowed them to come back in the third quarter but we bounced back. Today was a little bit hotter compared to our last match on Tuesday. You can feel that on the ground,” he commented.
But Batch knows that it is going to be a 48 hours of waiting to see whether they can qualify for the final.
“We have completed our games and now it is a wait and see to know our fate in the classification matches. It is not in our hands anymore. But the two days break will allow us to get ready for the match on Saturday,’ he added.
In the match played in hot and humid conditions, both New Zealand and India started off rather lethargically.
The first half was went by without much fanfare but India started off the second quarter strongly to force a penalty corner. But drag flicker Ramandeep Singh’s attempt was foiled by Kiwi keeper Devon Manchester.
India also missed two other set-pieces in the later stages of the game and that paid put of their chances of salvaging at least a draw.
It was the Black Sticks who went ahead in the 28th minute from their first penalty corner set piece. Kane Russell’s drive took a deflection off the stick of Manpreet Singh and Harjot SIngh had no chance of stopping it.
Harjot was not initially included in the starting line-up but was included after Akash Chikte picked up an injury during warm-up.
In the 36th minute India scrambled in the equaliser. In a melee inside the D, Talwinder Singh’s hit towards goal was deflected in by Mandeep Singh.
It took the Black Sticks just five minutes to regain the lead. Nick Wilson was gifted a golden opportunity to put his side ahead after Harmanpreet Singh failed to clear and easy ball in front of the goalmouth. Wilson thundered in a shot that gave the Indian keeper no chance at all.
Wilson was picked as the Man of the Match.
India could have fell further behind but for some desperate defending, especially in the closing stages of the last quarter.
Indian coach Roelant Oltmans commended New Zealand for being able to carve out good results in searing conditions.
“Respect for New Zealand. They played in three consecutive early matches. I am disappointed with the result but we had our chances. It was nice to beat Pakistan on Tuesday but it does not mean that the tournament is over.”
Oltmans said the next match against Malaysia would be tough as they are a very energetic team.
“I have not studied much about Malaysia but based on some of the matches I have seen, they are a pacey side. “It won’t be an easy game. We will have to be on our toes in the game to make it to the final,’’ he added.