New Delhi: A spirited Indian hockey men's national team failed to break the trans-tasman hold on the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. In the 2016 final on Saturday, the Sardar Singh-led outfit succumbed to a 0-4 goal defeat to a dominant World Champions at Azlan Shah Stadium in Malaysia's west coast city of Ipoh.
Australia, record eighth time champions, started as the obvious favourites, but an rejuvenated Indian side made sure to pose a strong challenge for the title. Last year, Aussies – the defending champions – were beaten by New Zealand in the final on penalties.
India suffered a 1-5 mauling at the hands of Australia in their second group game. But the Roelant Oltmans' boys managed to subside any tingling effect from that match and started the title match with greater possession, 52 per cent in the first quarter.
Australia, then, took the initiative and broke the deadlock in the 26th minute with a beautiful field goal from Thomas Craig. Trailing by a solitary goal, India started the last quarter in the right earnest, winning a penalty corner. But Aussie goalie produced a stunning save to deny Harmanpreet Singh's powerful drive.
Then, out of nowhere Australia doubled the lead with another Thomas Craig, this time the striker timed his slide to perfection to connect a cross from the left. That happened in the 38th minute.
Soon after the second goal, India conceded the third. Poor defending inside the Indian half allowed Matt Gohdes to a relatively easy goal.
And it was not over, Matt Gohdes scored probably the goal of the tournament, breaching the Indian defence after he was offered a lofted pass from a tight corner. That's 4-0 in favour of the World Champions.
In the last five years, the tournament was won by either Australia or New Zealand. In fact, India defeated Malaysia 6-1 in yesterday's final league game to avoid a second successive Australia-New Zealand final in Malaysia.
India have previously won the title five times – in 1985, 1991, 1995, 2009 and 2010.
India won the title last in 2010, when they beat South Korea in the final. It was probably India's best spell in the tournament's history entering the competition as the defending champions. In 2008, India lost the final to Argentina, and of course were the third best teams in two years before that.
Last year, India finished third after beating South Korea on penalties.