London: In a total humiliation, former champions India finished at the bottom of the 12-team Olympic hockey competition, completing an unprecedented washout after being beaten 2-3 by South Africa in a classification match at the London Games here on Saturday.
The sorry saga of six successive defeats, thus, drew curtains to India`s painful journey in the London Games.
India`s wayward shooting and the strikers` inability to convert repeated raids into goals or penalty corners continued to be the story of these Olympic Games.
The disastrous campaign finished with an all-loss record for the eight-time Olympic gold medallists who were always chasing the South African side after they took the lead in the eighth minute.
The India-South Africa fixture pitted the bottom placed teams in the two pools.
India were hoping to avoid the wooden spoon, which they had done in the 2006 World Cup at Monchengladbach, Germany in the play-off for the 11th-12th positions between the same two teams.
South Africa made use of the space afforded to their strikers by the Indian defence. Andrew Cronje (eighth minute), Timothy Drummond (34th) and Lloyd Norris-Jones (66th) scored for South Africa, while India`s goals came from Sandeep Singh (14th) and Dharamvir Singh (67th).
The only time the Indians showed desperation to score a goal, or convert their raids into penalty corners seemed to be in the final minute, when the South Africans grimly held on to the lead.
India`s young mid-fielder Manpreet Singh was carried off the pitch on a stretcher in the third minute after receiving a big blow on the forehead as he tried to stop a South African striker to send in a cross.
Manpreet returned to the Indian bench after 20 minutes with a heavily bandaged forehead, and it was a surprise for everyone present at the Riverbank Arena to see the player again on to the pitch after half-time.
South Africa sounded the board when Cronje tapped the ball in during a melee following a cross from the right flank.
India drew parity on their first penalty corner in the 14th minute as Sandeep sent a low shot into the boards.
Three minutes later, Gurwinder Singh Chandi picked a long ball and dribbled into the circle, but failed to trouble the South African defence.
Danish Mujtaba`s rising deflection on a long diagonal ball from Sandeep was palmed away by South African goalkeeper Eramus Pieterse in the 31st minute.
Two minutes later, Mujtaba was again in the picture as he picked up a pass inside the circle and took a shot that went straight into the custodian`s pads.
South Africa went ahead again just one minute before the interval when Drummond tipped the ball over the diving goalkeeper P R Sreejesh on a diagonal cross from left.
Showing more purpose after the change of ends, the Indians strikers created several openings but their goal-bearing shots were not good enough to trouble the South African goalkeeper.
Chandi shot into the goalkeeper`s pads in the 44th minute. Ten minutes later, S V Sunil`s solo down the right flank saw him move into the circle, but the shot rebounded off the custodian`s pads.
Soon after, Dharamvir used a counter-attack to have a crack at the goal from top of the circle. His rising shot was saved by the goalkeeper and India were given a corner as the rebound went high into play.
Sandeep had two attempts in successive penalty corners, but could not penetrate the defence again.
South Africa seemed to have put the match beyond India`s reach in the 66th minute when a firm reverse drive by Norris-Jones went high into the cage off a defender`s stick.
India made a desperate attempt to make a comeback from the two-goal deficit, and pulled one back within a minute as Dharamvir swept the ball into the boards when a cross from the left deflected towards him from a South African defender.
India had three shots at the South African goal in the last minute of play, but the equaliser eluded them.