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Defending champions India go down 0-1 to Australia, get silver

Written by: Staff

Melbourne, Mar 25: Defending champion India waged a valiant fight against their fancied rivals Australia for 62 minutes but could not prevent them from snatching the gold with a 1-0 win in the final of the Women Hockey Competition of the Commonwealth Games here today.

India caved in to the solitary goal by Nicole Hudson eight minutes before the final whistle but even in defeat, the Indian girls were glorious.

After having been relegated to bronze four years ago, the Australian women finally grabbed the gold, while India finished with a silver, which had looked rather improbable at the start of their campaign.

With the match heading towards extra time, a great through ball from the left by Sarah Taylor was deflected in by a waiting Nicole Hudson and it flew into the the net, eluding a leaping Indian goalkeeper Helen Mary.

The lone goal spelt gold for Australia and left India with a silver.

Indian coach Maharaj Kumar Kaushik looked disappointed but was also proud of his team.

''We could have won today. We have a very good team and the girls played very well throughout the tournament,'' he said.

Australian coach Frank Murray summed up the match saying, ''Today was a matter of taking opportunities when they came. Both teams had opportunities but we came out on top.'' In a fast paced contest, the Indians matched the Australians in the first half, during which both teams missed a few chances. In fact, there were a couple of times when the favourite, but tense Australian, almost blew it. But the Indian forwards were unable to make good use of the chances that came their way.

One of the best chances of the entire match came India's way in the 13th minute but Saba Anjum failed to connect a cross from the right with the Australian goalkeeper going the other way. Before that India had forced and wasted two penalty corners, one each by Asunta Lakra and Rajwinder Kaur.

Egged on by the packed stadium on an extremely hot afternoon, Australia began the match in an aggressive manner, forcing a penalty corner within 90 seconds. It was goalkeeper, Helen Mary, the saviour for the Indian team for a good part of this tournament, who once again came to the rescue as she cleared Angela Skirving's stinger.

The Indian girls were rather tentative and at times allowed the Australians a lot of space by clustering around each other. The result was that the Australians -- Nicole Hudson, Rachelle Taylor, Suzanne Faulkner and Sarah Taylor -- always seemed to have a lot of space to play in.

But the hosts were unable to capitalise on that, as they themselves seemed to be weighed down by the burden of expectations. The Australian girls, ranked number one in the world, moved faster, had greater possession and even greater physical advantage over the Indians, who were often elbowed out in the tackles. But to their credit, the Indians, especially the defence, did not surrender.

Kanti Baa and Nilima Kujuur held the fortress well, and when they lapsed, Helen Mary was the big wall for the Australians. Rajwinder Kaur and skipper Sumrai Tete also kept coming back to guard the citadel.

Australians forced no less than seven penalty corners, four in the first half and three in the second, while the Indians had their share with four, three in the first half and one in second. But both sides were unable to convert any of them.

Angela Skirving and Emily Halliday's efforts of the set pieces were cleared well by the defence and goalkeeper Helen. But on at least one or two occasions, there were tense moments for India as the Australians were left searching for the ball in the melee as the Indians crowded them out.

On their part, the defending champions tried some variations, particularly off the second one in the eighth minute, and it nearly worked when Rajwinder got a shot but it went wide.

The first session failed to produce any goal but the Indian girls managed to hold their own against the hosts, who did look better overall. But there were no goals to show for that.

Into the second half, the Australians were again the dominant team, but India, like they had for most of the first half, held the hosts at bay.

Short passes, quick darts to the left and right ensured there was no harm but defence lapses always seemed to be waiting to happen.

And when it looked that the match may go into extra time like Manchester, where India stunned England by a golden goal, a spectacular shot from Sarah Taylor was deflected in by a waiting skipper Hudson and it knocked the wind out of the courageous Indian team.

In the remaining time, both teams sparred a bit but the Australians hung onto their slender lead and closed the issue.

A thrilled Australian captain Hudson said, ''I'm so proud of the girls. We're really in disbelief at the moment. India is a top team but we just played better on the day.

''I just wanted to give it a real go. It's been a long time since we've got a gold medal. We're tired but ecstatic,'' she added.

Earlier, England defeated New Zealand 3-1 in a penalty shoot out, after a long tussle that went into two periods of extra time, to claim the bronze.


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