Ipoh (Malaysia), April 11:
Forward Nikkin Thimmaiah’s hat-trick inspired India to a stunning 4-2 victory over reigning world champions Australia in their last league match of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at the Azlan Shah Stadium here on Saturday.
This victory not only restored some pride for the eight-time Olympic champions, who were coming off a scrappy performance in the four matches, but also helped them finish fourth. Thus, world No.9 India will play the bronze medal match of the 24th edition of the six-nation tournament.
The Asian Games champions had lost to lower ranked Malaysia and New Zealand, while edging past minnows Canada 5-3 and playing a 2-2 draw against South Korea.
But on Friday, they got off to a perfect start. They raided the two-time defending champions’ citadel in the first minute and were rewarded with a penalty corner that was successfully converted by V.R. Raghunath.
Australia battled back in the 14th minute through Daniel Beale’s cool finish after receiving Trent Mitton’s pass inside the box.
Midway through the second period, Nikkin netted the first of a hat-trick of goals when India turned over possession inside the Kookaburras circle. The Karnataka forward slotted home unopposed in the 23rd minute to give India the 2-1 lead.
Nikkin doubled his tally and India’s advantage two minutes into the second half, sweeping home a cross from the right at close range.
Having fallen two goals down in the third quarter, Matt Gohdes gave Australia hope of a comeback seven minutes from time but Nikkin’s hat-trick goal in the final minute completed the result.
Throughout the match, both Australian goalkeepers — Tristan Clemons and Leon Hayward pulled off a number of saves to keep the score down while their Indian counterpart P.R. Sreejesh denied Nick Budgeon from a penalty corner.
Gohdes looked to have sparked a revival when he deflected home Budgeon’s penetrating pass at the back post. But the Kookaburras could not find the equaliser despite Trent Mitton coming close twice late on.
With Australia throwing everything forward in the final minute, Nikkin broke clear to round Leon Hayward at the top of the circle before firing high into the goal for 4-2.
With this loss, the Kookaburras suffered their first defeat in the tournament since May 2010, when they also went down to the Indians 3-4.
However, Australia finished on top with 12 points and will play the final on Sunday against either South Korea or New Zealand. (IANS)