Hockey World Cup 2023 | India puts it past Wales to finish second; fails to book a direct berth in the quarterfinals

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Akashdeep Singh, third from left, celebrates with teammates after slotting in one of his two goals against Wales.

Akashdeep Singh, third from left, celebrates with teammates after slotting in one of his two goals against Wales.
| Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

If domination equalled goals, India should have won by a dozen. It doesn’t and India could only manage a less-than-satisfactory 4-2 win against a gritty Wales, finishing level on points with England but second in Pool D on Thursday on goal difference. Truth be told, England’s top finish was only fair.

The result means India will now have to play the crossover match with New Zealand, the third-placed team in Pool C for a spot in the quarterfinals. And the host has only itself to blame. A day before, coach Graham Reid and captain Harmanpreet Singh had both insisted there would be no scoreboard pressure. On field, everything the Indian team did reeked of the monkey of eight-goal margin it needed for direct last-eight qualification on its backs.

India started well and only a couple of great saves by Welsh goalkeeper Toby Reynolds-Cotterill kept it from scoring. Thereafter, though, despite constantly being parked in the opposition half for long and having at least three forwards inside the Welsh circle at any time, the Indians appeared too much in a hurry, kept fumbling and found themselves without backups for rebounds.

In the normal course, the playbook would tell players to hurry on the counter, pass ahead on the go and then take time inside the circle to position themselves before shooting. The Indians did the opposite, dribbling with little purpose in the middle and allowing Wales to regroup before rushing into the circle and taking shots in a hurry.

It took Shamsher Singh controlling a PC rebound near the 23-yard circle and hitting into the far corner from just inside the circle to break the deadlock. And Akashdeep Singh finally came into his own, scoring twice, both from near the top of the circle.

Akashdeep’s goals came off moves that India needed consistently but rarely managed. The first was a 1-2 with Mandeep with the bare minimum of touches from the half-line; the second was a similar move with Sukhjeet.

Wales was far more organised in its plans and was rewarded with two PCs in three minutes towards the end of the third quarter — and converted both to make the score 2-2 in 45 minutes. The biggest plus for India, though, would be Harmanpreet Singh finally opening his account 30 seconds from time. The result might flatter India; the performance less so.

Earlier, England stamped its authority with 4-0 win against Spain with relentless attack and barely allowing the Spaniards to settle. The entire team went up and down in numbers as Spain struggled to even enter the English circle. The teams appeared equal for the first few minutes before England stepped up to take control even as every goal struck sunk Indian hopes of topping the group a little more.

With penalty corners a concern, England decided to go big in open play. Rushing to meet every ball and tackling for possession, England players were all over the field. Spain could hardly find space to move ahead despite moving the ball from one flank to the other. In fact, for long periods of the game, it was all it could do. Spain also conceded numerous turnovers between the two 25-yard lines and although the second half was much better for the Spaniards, it was not enough against a far superior opponent.

The results: Pool D: England 4 (Phil Roper 10-PC, David Condon 21, Nicholas Bandurak 50, Liam Ansell 51) bt Spain 0; India 4 (Shamsher 21-PC, Akashdeep 32 & 45, Harmanpreet 59-PC) bt Wales 2 (Gareth Furlong 42-PC, Jacob Draper 44-PC).

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