Ipoh (Malaysia): India`s hopes of qualifying for the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament went up in smoke after they crashed to their third defeat in the event, losing 0-2 to defending champions New Zealand in their must-win penultimate round-robin match here today.
Five-time champions India needed a victory to stay in the competition, instead it was the Black Sticks who scored two second half goals to keep their flag flying in the tournament.
New Zealand struck through Andy Hayward from their second penalty corner in the 40th minute before Cory Bennett took the match out of India`s reach, scoring the team`s second goal in the 55th minute.
Despite the 3-3 draw against Korea earlier in the day, six-time champions Australia are still atop the leaderboard with eight points from four games, followed by hosts Malaysia (7 points) and New Zealand (6), who has leapfrogged to the third spot by virtue of the win over India.
Korea have four points from as many games just ahead of India (3 points). Pakistan, who play Malaysia later today, are still in the fray but to remain in the hunt they will have to win their remaining two games of the tournament.
On the contrary if Malaysia beat Pakistan today, the hosts will be the first team to book its place in Sunday`s final. In that case, New Zealand will have to beat Australia in their final round-robin game on Saturday to make the title clash.
Having won only one match (against Pakistan) out of the four they have played so far, India are out of the reckoning and will take on Malaysia in their last league fixture on Saturday. India had earlier lost to Australia and Korea in their opening two games.
It was New Zealand who had the first look at the Indian goal but forward Stephen Jenness` shot was kept away by in-form Indian goalkeeper P R Sreejesh.