Breda, Netherlands: India went down 2-3 to World No.1 Australia in a hard-fought third round robin match of the Men's Hockey Champions Trophy Breda 2018 here on Wednesday.
Varun Kumar (10th minute) and Harmanpreet Singh (58th) scored for India. Young forward Lachlan Sharp (6th minute) had given defending champions Australia an early lead while Tom Craig (15th) and Trent Mitton (33rd) scored the other goals.
With a place in the final at stake, the match began with an action-packed first quarter with both teams keeping each other on the edge. It were Australia who drew first blood with a splendid goal by Sharp.
The Indian defence was hoodwinked when Jake Whetton was quick to assist Eddie Ockenden whose cross was well picked up by Sharp to deflect past Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh.
India were quick to respond with an improvised attack that fetched them a penalty corner, but a miss-trap off Sardar Singh's injection saw the effort being missed. India earned another penalty corner through Lalit Upadhyay but again the ball bounced off before being trapped but the possession remained with India.
It was S.V. Sunil's brilliant cross to an unmarked Varun Kumar that helped India equalise. Varun made no mistake in picking it up well and flicking it past Australian goalkeeper Tyler Lovell.
Australia however, ended the quarter one goal up as Tom Craig converted a penalty corner. It was messy defensive work by India. Though Sreejesh blocked the first two attempts, the ball was free before Australia drove it in.
With Australia leading 2-1, India showed positive intent as they won a penalty corner two minutes into the second quarter. However, the chance was not capitalised.
India won yet another penalty corner, their fourth, in the following minute but Harmanpreet Singh drove the flick straight into Australia`s first rusher. The following minutes saw both teams trade penalty corners, but Sreejesh kept his team in the game with brilliant saves.
With Sunil and Manpreet Singh being sent away with a green and a yellow card respectively, Australia took advantage of fewer India players on the pitch as they beat the defence to score their third goal through Trent Mitton off a Tom Craig assist.
Australia dominated the proceedings as they won their fifth penalty corner, putting India's defence under further stress. It seemed as though the compactness the Indian team showed against Argentina was missing.
Sreejesh was up to the task again when he made an effective save off Australia's sixth penalty corner attempt, but India's overall performance in the third quarter was not at par with Australia.
Going into the final quarter, a goal continued to elude India. Two excellent shots on goal by Sardar Singh followed by Vivek Sagar Prasad in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter were well saved by a very alert Australian goalkeeper.
India made a strong comeback with just two minutes left for the final hooter when they won back-to-back penalty corners. Harmanpreet converted India's eighth penalty corner attempt, narrowing the gap to 2-3.
India will face World No.3 Belgium on Thursday.