Ipoh, Malaysia: Five-time champions India's title hopes came a cropper after they suffered a 2-3 defeat against Argentina in a crucial match of the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here on Wednesday.
India suffered due to their inability to capitalise on openings and also feeble defense that allowed Argentina to call the shots.
Two field goals by Matias Paredes (37th minute) and Santiago Montelli (38th) soon after the half-time gave Argentina the advantage and then Gonzalo Peillat (58th) converted a penalty corner to ensure a victory for the Pan American champions.
The Indians fought hard and reduced the margin twice through goals from Sardar Singh (48th minute) and V R Raghunath (61st minute), but an equaliser eluded them inspite of repeated attacks into the rival citadel.
India have now lost three of their five matches, logging just six points ahead of Thursday's last league outing against Pakistan.
Argentina have boosted their tally to nine points with three successive wins after starting with two losses.
The first session was mostly confined to the midfield with both teams often losing possession on top of the rival circle. India created two openings from the left flank but were unable to capitalise on them.
India's first penalty corner in the sixth minute was also wasted as Sandeep Singh's rising flick was deflected out by a defender.
Sandeep even suffered a minor ankle sprain in taking the penalty corner and was rested for a long period, but he will be fit for Thursday's game against Pakistan.
After a barren first half, Argentina scored two goals in the space of a minute soon after the change of ends.
Paredes benefitted from Sandeep's defensive lapse off a long diagonal pass to flick the ball into the goal.
Within a minute, Argentina were up 2-0, courtesy another silly error from the Indians, to be precise captain Sardar Singh who easily gave away the ball and Montelli had all the time in the world to slot the ball into the net.
India then went all out and were rewarded with their second penalty corner from which Sardar scored with a reverse hit after Raghunath's initial flick was saved by Argentina goalkeeper Juan Vivaldi.
Argentina were then put 3-1 ahead by Gonzalo Peillat's low penalty corner shot that went to the left of Indian custodian P Sreejesh.
India continued to press hard and were back in the contest when Raghunath scored with a rising drag-flick into the net nine minutes from the hooter.
Raghunath had a chance to restore parity for India in the 66th minute from another penalty corner, but this time his shot went wide of the Argentine goal.