Needing an outright win to book a place in the semi-finals, India [ Images ] squandered a two-goal lead and settled for a 2-2 draw against China to see their title defence go up in smoke in the Asia Cup hockey tournament in Kuantan, Malaysia on Tuesday.
Skipper Sandeep Singh converted two of India's four penalty corners to put the side ahead but the Indian defence crumbled at crucial junctures to allow China escape with a draw.
For China, Lu Feng Hui (45th) and Yu Yang (59th) sounded the boards.
India were beaten 2-3 by Pakistan in their tournament opener.
China's tenacity and their ability to slow the pace of the game won the day for them against an inconsistent Indian side which played well in patches.
The Indians wingers, especially Arjun Halappa, was impeccable with his crosses but the forward line, comprising Rajpal Singh and Prabhjot Singh, was guilty of fumbling and mis-trapping the ball on a number of occasions.
However, Sandeep, who was off-colour in the first match against Pakistan, answered his critics in style, converting two short corners in a span of three minutes to see the defending champions go into the breather with a comfortable 2-0 lead.
Sandeep opened the scoring in the 31st minute with a fierce drag-flick that beat the Chinese custodian hands down after Tushar Khandekar had earned India's first penalty corner.
Three minutes later, he doubled the lead with another immaculate short corner conversion.
With a 2-0 cushion, the Indians came out all attacking in the second half but the strategy backfired as it created open spaces in the midfield and the nimble-footed Chinese were quick to cash in on the opportunity with swift counter-attacks.
The Chinese, who spoilt India's medal hopes in 2006 Asian Games beating them 3-2, reduced the lead in the 45th minute when Hui found the net with an indirect variation from their first penalty corner.
But it was rival forward Yang who drove the final nail in India's coffin in the 59th minute with a delicate touch from a free hit following a costly defensive lapse.
A desperate India worked hard for the elusive winner but the Chinese defence stood tall to thwart any threat to their place in the last four stage.
Just 50 seconds from the hooter, Sandeep did get an opportunity to seal the match and a semi-final place for India but this time his drag-flick was stopped by a diving Chinese goalkeeper Su Ri Feng to dash India's hopes.