Promising midfielder Lilima Minz’s efforts went in vain as a late surge from Australia resulted in India losing 1-2 to the hosts in the Four-Nation Hockey Tournament in Darwin on Friday.
Having lost 1-4 to New Zealand and then playing a 1-1 draw against Japan, World No 13 India made a brilliant comeback in the third game with great defensive display.
The hockeyroos started on a high with Grace Stewart opening the scoring in the ninth minute itself.
However, the Indian team started to hit back soon after.
India’s hard work paid dividends as Lilima equalised in the 12th minute to make it all square going into the first timeout. India pressed home the advantage, and had a great opportunity in the final seconds, but Australia’s goalkeeper Rachael Lynch saved smartly to deny India the lead going into the break.
In the second quarter, the teams fought out an even battle, although Australia took more chances at goal. Their first penalty corner shot into the bottom left corner was parried away smartly by Savita Punia, before Sunita Lakra cleared the stray ball away cleanly.
Defending well in numbers and efficiency, India frustrated Australia throughout the quarter. And then in the closing stages, leading to half time, they started pressing harder, forcing the hosts into mistakes. The two teams went into half time evenly matched with a goal apiece.
After the break, Australia came out strongly and controlled a large part of the third quarter, constantly pressing and testing the Indian defences, which rose up to the task brilliantly.
The Indians kept thwarting the Australian strike force away and ensured the hosts didn’t manage too many shots on target.
In the dying minutes, Australia, had two penalty corners pushed away by Savita, but with three minutes to go for the final whistle Emily Smith finally managed to break the Indian defence to go 2-1 up. Thereafter, India failed to find the equaliser, losing 1-2.
India will take on Japan in the bronze medal match on Saturday.
“I think tactically and defensively, this was an ideal performance from the team, our best in the tournament. Savita was huge in our goal and all the defenders took collective responsibility and worked together brilliantly,” India chief coach Neil Hawgood said after the match.
“When we are playing teams with a strong attacking battery like Australia we need to be compact defensively, and tactically smart and we showed that today. It is unfortunate we conceded so late in the game, but we are proud of our performance today,” he added.