The Indian women's hockey team's unbeaten run in the 2012 London Olympics qualifiers ended on Wednesday with a 2-5 defeat against tournament favourites South Africa in their fourth match.
With the defeat, India slipped from the top spot to third with seven points. South Africa lead the table with 10 points while Italy are second on eight.
South Africa, who are the highest World ranked team in the tournament at No.12, completely dominated the game and it was World No.13 India, who had to do the catching up job at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
While the two teams are separated only by a spot in the FIH rankings, the difference in class was wide and apparent. It was a clinical performance by the South Africans and the hosts struggled to match them in speed, power and aggression.
Dirkie Chamberlain struck thrice (12th, 32nd, 58th) and Sulette Dammons (53rd, 67th) scored a brace for South Africa. India captain Asunta Lakra scored in the 23rd minute and Soundarya Yendala in the 52nd minute.
The game looked evenly poised in the first half but South Africa raised their tempo in the second as Indians ran out of steam.
The Indian defence was completely rusty and South Africa had a clear chance to open the scoring as early as in the second minute. India goalkeeper Savita had a busy day and had it not been for her, the hosts would have lost by a bigger margin.
Indians once again had problems in converting the penalty corners. The only time they got it right was when Asunta converted the third penalty corner to make it 1-1.
India were also lucky to make it 2-2 from the sixth penalty corner with Soundarya converting an indirectly taken hit. In all, India got six penalty corners but could convert only one.
India coach C.R.Kumar said with the loss the team is now in a must-win situation in their next match against Italy.
"We played poorly today and committed lot of unforced errors. We are in a must-win situation against Italy in our next match," he said.
Kumar also lamented that substitutions didn't work for his team.
"Today substitutions didn't work. Whenever we made a substitution we conceded a goal," he said.