It wasn’t what they expected when they started, but the Indian hockey team scored a consolation win in their final World Cup game on Saturday to end the quadrennial tournament in joint ninth place in Rourkela. The hosts scored a comprehensive 5-2 victory against South Africa in the 9-12 qualifying playoff to finish ninth alongside Argentina, who beat Wales 6-0 on the same day.
Abhishek (5th), skipper Harmanpreet Singh (12th), Shamsher Singh (45th), Akashdeep Singh (49th) and Sukhjeet Singh (59th) scored for India while Samkelo Mvimbi (49th) and Mustaphaa Cassiem (60th) scored for the World No. 14 apparel.
India had beaten South Africa on all three occasions the two sides met in 2022. In fact, India has not lost to South Africa since the 2012 London Olympics.
In the final game of this World Cup at the new Birsa Munda hockey stadium, India were the first out when an excellent pass from Harmanpreet to the attacking circle found forward Abhishek, who picked up the fastball with ease and nailed it on the board.
India ended the first quarter with Harmanpreet dragging the ball into the net to put the hosts 2-0 up.
After a goalless second quarter, the crowd of 21,800 had to wait until the end of the third quarter to see the third goal of the game when Abhishek re-entered the scene with a beautiful pass, a deft touch from Shamsher that made it 3-0 to India.
A couple of minutes into the fourth quarter, a good run from the Indian forwards saw Raj Kumar Pal pass past Jarmanpreet Singh who further pushed Akashdeep who scored his third World Cup goal.
South Africa had made a couple of tries earlier in the match but lacked the finishing touch. They finally converted a try when India were stunned on a counter-attack immediately after scoring. Mvimbi caught an aerial ball in the circle to put South Africa back on the board.
India regained the margin when Sukhjeet passed to Akashdeep, whose backhand touch was saved by goalkeeper Gowan Jones. But the ball rebounded and Sukhjeet used his presence of mind to push through India’s fifth goal. Cassiem converted from the penalty in the last minute to reduce the margin.
It was the 200th cap for striker Mandeep Singh.
This is the worst performance by a host nation in the World Cup. The previous low was eighth place for Argentina in Buenos Aires 1978, Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur 2002 and India in New Delhi 2010.