It was reminiscent of the tale of David and Goliath as Wales took on hosts India in the concluding match of the group stages of the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup as Wales continued to search for their first point in world cup history.
It was a particularly important fixture from an Indian perspective as they look to challenge England at the top of group D for an automatic spot in the quarter finals. They required a clear margin of 8 goals to achieve this but if Wales could achieve the reverse total, they would be able to knock out Spain and progress to the knockout rounds.
This highly anticipated match took place in front of a sell-out crowd, including three hundred school children from a visit the Welsh players made to a local international school earlier in the week in conjunction with sponsor Study in Wales.
It was also a monumental game for Wales’ Hywel Jones who today received his 50th international cap.
However, unfortunate news also emerged from the Welsh camp as it was revealed before that match that number two goalkeeper Rhys Payne had suffered an ACL injury during training and was out of the tournament.
Wales’ intent and hunger for this game was evident from the beginning as they demonstrated impressive defending and placed intense pressure on the India side with frequent double teaming to show the hosts that Wales were not going to allow themselves to be walked over.
Despite some promising attacks from the Welsh side the first goal went the side of India during a penalty corner in the 21st minute. Steve Kelly’s lightning fast number one running could not prevent Shamsher Singh rebound reverse shot.
The beginning of the second half saw India double their lead as Akashdeep capitalised on a minimal Welsh defence after breaking from an unsuccessful Welsh short corner.
Despite this deficit Wales came alive in the third quarter with Gareth Furlong demonstrating why he is one of the World’s best drag flickers as he steps up under pressure to deliver a blow to India’s hopes of running away with it.
Shortly after, Jacob Draper blew the wind out of the Indian crowd’s sails with a stunning top corner rebound during a penalty corner to draw the game level.
Graham Reid’s third quarter talk revived the Indian side as they score immediately in the third quarter with a superb reverse shot goal from Akashdeep
With just 40 seconds remaining in the game, India secured their victory with Harmanpreet finding the centre of the goal.
It was a contest of fabulous quality, and nobody could question the immense spirit of this stubborn Wales team.
This loss brings an end to Wales’ World Cup journey but what a journey it has been. An impressive two works has shown what they can deliver on the World Stage and certainly demonstrates that they are a team to continue to watch going forward.