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BHUBANESWAR: India played out a 1-1 draw with defending champions Australia in their Odisha Hockey World League Final opener on Friday.
The Indians made a sparkling start with an early incursion into the Australian half, catching the opponent defence by surprise. SV Sunil moved briskly on the right flank and his shot after deflection from a defender found Gurjant Singh whose reverse hit was blocked by the Australian ‘keeper Tyler Lovell. World no. 2 Australia responded with a counterattack but the resultant attempt at goal was weak.
Then Harmanpreet Singh’s long pass was picked up by Akashdeep and he went past Matthew Shawn to unleash a thunderous shot which was palmed away by Tyler. However, Gurjant had a lovely chance to score on the rebound but the shot was, again, padded away.
The capacity crowd at the Kalinga Stadium was on its feet after witnessing a sprightly start from their team. Soon, India won their first penalty corner but again, they were denied after yet another save from Lovell. While India had the edge in the opening exchanges, Australia were ready with their replies. They soon earned their first penalty corner (11th minute) but an alert Akash Chitke was equal to the task.
Akashdeep was repeatedly making probing moves but somehow Australia managed to deny him and the first quarter ended goalless. Five minute in to the second quarter, India finally sent one crashing inside the Australian cage through Mandeep Singh. A lovely cross from the midfield from Manpreet to Sunil opened up the Australian defense and he pushed the ball forward to Mandeep, who did well to send the ball past Tyler to hand India 1-0 lead. It was a perfect culmination of the build-up by the hosts with Manpreet being in the thick of action.
The joy was short-lived after Australia converted a penalty corner with Jeremy Hayward equalising in the 21st minute. That was followed by a period when Indian defenders were tested by the Kookaburras. The first-half ended with both sides on equal footing.
The third quarter was punctuated by both the teams conceding penalty corners. India won the first two of the six penalty corners during the period while Australia won four inside 60 seconds. Neither team converted them. The bristling start was fast peering towards a quiet end with India left to rue the missed opportunities at the start of the game. Australia had their own failures to look back upon when they had the chance to take the lead during a period when they got four penalty corners.
Akashdeep had a frustrating outing as he had several chances to score tonight. In the final quarter, Mandeep’s long pass found the 22-year-old forward inside the Australian D but his deflection hit the woodwork. Little separated the two teams in Bhubaneswar with India enjoying 11 shots on target as compared to Australia’s 8.
India next face England on Saturday evening while Australia lock horns with Germany. Olympic gold medalist Argentina will be up against Belgium while Netherlands square off against Spain on a busy Saturday.