India came from two goals down to edge out New Zealand 3-2 in the hockey semifinals of the 20th Commonwealth Games on Saturday and set up a repeat final of the 2010 edition with holders Australia.
Trailing 0-2 in the 18th minute, India were revived by strikes from skipper Rupinder Singh Pal, Ramandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh, who ensured at least a silver medal for the country.
The Kiwis drew first blood in the second minute with Simon Child taking a neat cross pass to put the ball screeching into the net.
The Black Sticks continued with their fine show and three minutes later, Hugo Inglis fired at the net again but this time it was stopped by the Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh Ravindran.
Indian midfileder Rupinder also came up a with a forceful hit at the Kiwi net but goalkeeper Hamish McGregor was alert
to put the strike at bay.
The New Zealanders missed a penalty corner in the 10th minute but they did not repeat the mistake when they got the
next opportunity, as hard-hitter Nick Haig scored on the rebound to double the lead in the 18th minute.
Indians got their one and only penalty corner in the 27th minute and drag flicker V R Raghunath hit the chest of a Kiwi player on the net. The on-field referee gave India a penalty stroke as part of obstruction.
Rupinder, who took the stroke, gave India their first goal in the 28th minute.
Coming from the bench after a two-minute suspension post a green card, Child missed an open goal in the dying minutes
of the first half as the scoreline read 2-1 after 35 minutes.
Child kept the Indian defenders on their toes even in the second half, as one his hits just went wide of the net in the 37th minute.
India also counter-attacked and it finally paid off with Ramandeep getting the equaliser in the 42nd minute. He capitalised on a fine deflection from Manpreet Singh’s angular pass and McGregor could do little to stop the ball from entering the net.
It was a close battle between the two sides here at the National hockey Center and it was Akashdeep, who soon showed his brilliance with the stick in the 47th minute by reverse flicking an S V Sunil pass into the net to give India lead for the first time in the match.
Akashdeep though soon got a two-minute suspension after a Green Card. Ramandeep also missed a chance and the tension
grew in both the camps.
Indian coach Terry Walsh was at his vociferous best as tried hard to widen the goal gap but the Kiwi defense was solid.
Sreejesh was hurt in the 61st minute after some rough play by a Kiwi forward but was soon up on his feet for the final few minutes of the game.
Looking desperate, Kiwis went for the kill in the final five minutes and removed their goalkeeper as 11 sticks attacked the Indian goal.
The Indians, however, managed to held on to the lead and now look to get the better of mighty Australians, who defeated England in the first semifinal.
The Indian side, coached by Walsh, will have to shrug off the bad memories of their 0-8 final defeat against the Aussies in the 2010 Delhi edition of the Games when they take field against the World Champions on Sunday.
Suspended India captain Sardar Singh, who was watching his teammates from the sidelines, said: “It was a difficult moment. I was sad but the boys were full of confidence and said that they would win for me.”
Talking about the final against Australia, Sardar said: “We will stick together, watch back the match and work on it.” India coach Terry Walsh said: “I think we did really well in the second half. We changed the game and created more opportunities to score even without having too many penalty corners. We were more dominant as a team.”
On conceding an early goal, Walsh said: “Obviously taking a goal so early opens up the game. It was a very open play. We didn’t defend well at that moment.”
On Sunday’s final against Australia, he said: “It’s going to be a lot more intense. We will pressure all around the field and go forward with Indian-style skills.”
Talking about the match, drag-flicker Rupinder Singh said: “It was a good game. New Zealand are a very good side. We didn’t take our chances in the first half, but we managed to in the second half.”
On being the stand-in captain of the side in place of suspended Sardar Singh, he said: “It was a great feeling and I tried to help the team to perform better.”
Rupinder said they will look to put up a better show than the Delhi 2010 final, where they had lost 0-8 four years back.
“We lost the last one. So we will look at the video and analyse our mistakes and do better this time,” he said.