What a huge dissapointment! What a forgettable experience for the large crowd at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar! Not many would have imagined a ‘crossover exit’ for the Graham Reid-coached Indian men’s hockey team – calling a spade a spade the Blueshirts have clearly let Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnarik (a man who has been instrumental in putting in the back-breaking efforts behind the smooth conduct of the 2023 Men’s Hockey World Cup) down firemost and then the rest of the country.
Have India mastered the art of embracing defeat from the doorstep of victory? No, we are not critical of the national team and only seeing things as they are. How on earth do you expect India holding a 3-1 lead with only 19 minutes left for the final hooter, press the panic button and allow New Zealand to pull level at 3-3 in regulation time, before the Black Sticks won the nerve-jangling suddent death shootout 4-3 to sneak into the quarterfinal where they face Olympic and world champions Belgium.
The Greg-Nicol-coached New Zealanders kept the home crowd quiet with a goalless opening quarter – Indians cranked up their game with Lalit Kumar Upadhyay rifled in a shot in a brilliant combined effort with Shamsher Singh and Akashdeep Singh, who was the one of the finds for India on the day. India doubled the lead when Sukhjeet Singh scored like a goal like a tennis overhead smash off a Harmanpreet Singh short corner after Black Sticks goalkeeper Dominic Dixon effected a save.
The Black Sticks choose the closing stages of the second quarter to mount a comeback as Sam Lane scored off a superb collective effort involiving Simon Child and Sean Findley. India appeared to take the contest away from New Zealand when Varun Kumar profited from a shortie in the closing moments of the third quarter.
Experienced drag-flicker Kane Russell much like the second quarter struck in the closing moments of the third quarter drilling home a penalty corner and their comeback was complete when Sean Findley slammed home a PC.
The tension-packed shootout headed into a sudden death where after a gruelling 18 attempts from both teams, Leon Hayward emerged as the hero of the shootout foiling the attempt of Shamsher Singh to trigger celebrations in the New Zealand camp as the home crowd was stunned to silence.
Demoralised India now face Japan for 9-16 place classification tie on January 26 – nothing happening in this game can wipe off the pain of India exiting in the crossover stage.