India lose to South Africa, finish fourth

Defending champions India went down 0-1 to South Africa to finish a disappointing fourth and last in the four-nation Men's Hockey Challenge competition.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:06 IST
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Defending champions India went down 0-1 to South Africa to finish a disappointing fourth and last in the four-nation Men's Hockey Challenge competition at the Sydney Olympic Park here today. India, who had defeated South Africa 4-3 only yesterday, looked in complete control for most part of the play-off today for the third place but were done in by a Greg Nicol goal in the 49th minute via a penalty corner. The tidings in the twin tournament in Australia do not portend well for India who are grouped with South Africa and Australia in the Olympics to be played in Athens in August. In the preceding tournament in Canberra, India had finished second after being blanked 0-3 by Australia in the final. In the Sydney leg, India had suffered a shock 0-3 defeat to under-rated Malaysia before they managed to hold strong Australia to a 2-2 draw in their next match. Although they beat South Africa yesterday, the Indians failed to make it to the final, which would be contested between Australia and Malaysia later in the day. Last year India had won the Sydney leg with a resounding 5-3 victory over the hosts. Injury problems A dejected Indian coach Rajinder Singh said India were handicapped due to injuries to three key players. "We were not fortunate enough to win the match today. We needed to go all out and score goals. However, we had restricted option in changing players as some of the seasoned players -- Prabhjot Singh, Virendra Rasquinha, Kanwalpreet Singh -- are recovering from injuries." Seeking to draw positives from the twin tournaments, he said: "this tournament has given the new and younger players -- Jatinder Pal, Sunil Yadav, Inderjit Singh Chadha and Raju -- the opportunity to play on fast and speedy grounds of Australia, similar to the fast turfs they will encounter in Athens. This has exposed the younger players to the top teams and they would now feel more confident while playing in the Olympics now." Areas for improvement Rajinder Singh also said the tournaments also provided him with a yardstick to judge "where we stand and areas where we need to improve." The match today saw India start off well with both the defence and attack showing remarkable agility. Caution was the watchword for both the sides, desperate to clinch the consolation third place. After a goal-less first half, India were surprised by a move from the opposition which culminated in Nicol, who had sounded the board twice yesterday, converting in the 49th minute. India pressed hard for an equaliser but the South Africa defence played its part to perfection to help their team emerge winners. (PTI)