Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

India were denied by the resilience and high determination of spirited debutants Wales even though the hosts managed to script a narrow 4-2 victory against the greenhorns in a Pool D match of the FIH Odisha Men's Hockey World Cup 2023 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Thursday.

Despite the narrow loss, Wales, with their splendid performance, ensured that India don't qualify for the quarterfinals directly. Now, the Men in Blue have to play a crossover match against New Zealand to advance into the last eight.

The encounter against debutants Wales was not only a match for India; rather it was a kind of mission for the Men in Blue. They had to trounce the minnows and score at least eight goals against them to beat England on the goal difference (9) and directly qualify for the quarterfinals.

Keeping that target in mind, the hosts started the game with an all-out attacking instinct and got maximum possession of the ball. However, Wales seem to have learnt their lessons from Netherlands drubbing of Chile. Their defenders stood like a rock to thwart a couple of fierce hitting within the D area to disallow the hosts any scoring opportunities. Due to the spirited performance of the debutants, the first quarter went barren much to the disappointment of the high-flying hosts and the jam-packed audience of Kalinga Stadium.

Finally India got into the act at the start of the second quarter by getting a penalty corner in the 19th minute which was denied by the agile and alert defenders of the opponent. India continued to surge with the attacking momentum and earned their second penalty corner in the 21st minute. Backed by boisterous spectators of around 15,000 at the jam-packed Kalinga Stadium, it was duly converted by Shamsher Singh as the hosts opened their account in the all-important match. Wales were also not left much behind as they aggressively surged into India's D couple of times only to be blocked by the hosts' defenders. India went with a solitary lead against the lower-ranked Wales till the end of the first half.

The second half started with Wales creating pressure earlier on India and in the process creating a penalty corner opportunity in the 31st minute, but failed to capitalise on it. India took the attack to the opposition and Akashdeep Singh scored a brilliant field goal in the next minute to double the lead. India earned their second penalty corner immediately only to be blocked by Wales custodian Toby Reynolds Cotterill. Wales defenders thwarted another penalty corner opportunity chance by India in the 35th minute. The hosts continued to press for more goals and in the process earned their sixth penalty corner chance. However, their perennial problem of converting penalty corners continued.

Wales came back strongly to create their second penalty corner chance in the 42nd minute. Furlong Gareth grabbed the rare opportunity with both the hands to sound the board and reduce the margin to 2-1. They created their third penalty corner opportunity in the 44th minute and Draper Jacob found the equaliser. The third quarter ended 2-2.

At the start of the fourth and the final quarter India had the breather as they managed to increase their lead again to 3-2 through Akashdeep Singh who hit fiercely through the left flank in the 45th minute. Wales survived couple of scary moments during the last part of the match. But Harmanpreet Singh converted a penalty corner in the 59th minute of the match to increase India's lead to 4-2.