India squandered a two-goal lead to suffer a 2-7 hammering at the hands of world champions Australia in the Hero Hockey World League Final in New Delhi on Wednesday.
India took a two-goal lead in the first 15 minutes of the opening half of the quarterfinal match through Birendra Lakra (6th minute) and Yuvraj Walmiki (11th minute). But the Australians showed tremendous fighting spirit to score three goals in the opening period through Nicholas Budgeon (24th), Jason Wilson (29th) and Glenn Turner (35th) to go into the break with a one-goal lead.
After the changeover, Australia went on rampage as they scored goals at will through Russell Ford (41st, 47th), Simon Orchard (45th) and Jacob Whetton (65th).
Contrary to the final result, it was india who dominated the early share of exchanges with some sharp moves. At 10th, they might be languishing eight places below Australia in the world rankings, but the Indians looked the superior side at least in the first 20 minutes of the game.
India made a promising start and came close to scoring in the opening minute of the match through a fine build up from S K Uthappa and Mandeep Singh. For the second match on the trot, the Indian midfield and forwardline coordinated well to create numerous scoring opportunities and troubled the Australian defence.
In fact, the fancied Kookaburras were caught napping by the pace of India's relentless attacks in the first 20 minutes of the match. India stunned Australia as early as in the sixth minute when Lakra scored from an acute angle after receiving a pass from Dharamvir Singh.
Australia got their first scoring opportunity in the 11th minute when Amit Rohidas' sloppy defending cost India a penalty corner but it was kept out by a brilliant P R Sreejesh in Indian goal to deny Nicholas Budgeon.
But India took the opportunities that came their way in the initial stages and doubled their lead against the run of play through Yuvraj who was at the right place at the right time to tap home after a build up from Nikkin Thimmaiah and M B Aiyappa.
After the initial struggle, Australia got their composure and slow clawed their way back into the game. They earned their second penalty corner in the 24th minute and this time Budgeon made no mistake and found the back of the Indian net with a powerful grounded flick that went through the legs of Sreejesh.
Five minutes later, Australia drew parity when Wilson tapped in from close range after receiving a pass from Daniel Beale. The equalising goal seemed to have pumped up the Kookaburras who put the Indian defence under pressure thereafter and took the lead for the first time in the match through an unmarked Turner at the far end by gently deflecting the ball in from an acute angle to go into the breather with a 3-2 lead.
The second half witnessed an altogether different Australia as they toyed with the Indian defence to score three quick goals to consolidate their lead, much to the disappointment of the home crowd. Just six minutes into the second period, Russell Ford extended Australia's lead with a field goal after he was set up by Turner and Wilson. If that was not enough, Australia pumped in two more field goals in a span of six minutes to douse India's hopes of a stunning win. First Orchard scored from a counter attack and then two minutes later, Ford tapped in a short backpass from Turner to make the scoreline 6-2 in favour of Australia.
The Indians looked a tired lot as they struggled to match the physical fitness and pace of the Australians, leaving open spaces in the pitch for Australia to exploit. An unmarked Yuvraj got a great chance to score his second goal of the match in the 48th minute but he shot straight to an onrushing Australian goalkeeper George Bazeley. India managed to earn their first penalty corner soon but as has been the case so far in the tournament for the hosts, V R Raghunath flicked it wide.
India earned two more penalty corners in the last 10 minutes of the match, but on both occasion Amit Rohidas came short. Australia added salt to India's wound when Whetton scored another field goal just five minutes from the final hooter.
It turned out to be old sorry tale for the Indians who had been on the losing side against the mighty Australians since the 0-8 thrashing in 2010 Commonwealth Games. Australia now play Netherlands in the second semifinal on Friday, while India will up against Germany for the 5/8th place classification match the same day.