Malaysia Tigers fell for the first time in the QNET 4th Asian Champions Trophy following a 1-2 defeat against India at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium in Kuantan today.
Faced with the daunting task of playing against the Malaysians who were riding high, the Indians succeeded in their mission in this highly octane game to stay top of the table standings with 13 points – three ahead of the Malaysians who still have a game in hand against Korea tomorrow.
The final round-robin league matches tomorrow between Malaysia and Korea and Pakistan against China will decide India’s semi-final opponents.
India has been ruthless in search for goals against weaker oppositions - winning 10-2 over Japan, routed China 9-0 and came through a tough battle against Pakistan before prevailing 3-2 against their arch rivals. The only glitch in their performance was a draw against the Koreans.
But today was an ultimate test of character for the 2011 Champions Trophy winners. The Malaysians have won three straight games and are as determined as the Indians in finishing top of the round-robin league. Both teams showed enough pedigree to turn this encounter into one of the best shows after seven days of excitement.
Roelant Oltmans’ India, however, justified their position as World No 6 and title contenders. The blue-shirted men were dominant and got off the match against Malaysia Tigers, ranked 14th in world, on high voltage. Back by frenzy 4,000 over home fans, the host was forced to coil deep into defence just three minutes into the start as the 2011 Champions Trophy winners, won the first penalty corner.
Rupinder Pal Singh, who forms the ultimate cog in the team, sent a smashing shot to the left of Malaysian goalkeeper S. Kumar. It was enough to send jitters among the fans. However, a superb move from Faizal Saari five minutes later on the left of the semi-circle saw his shot rise above the Indian goalmouth much to dismay of the fans here.
The Indians did not take long to push for the lead. A second penalty corner came in the 12th minute and Rupinder scores through a rebound to end the first half in favour of India.
India, however, took control of the early proceedings in the second half. Akashdeep Singh dribbles the ball in and passes it to Yousuf Affan who hits it over the top of the Malaysian goal.
This high pressure-cooker drama on the field unfolds into another nerve-wrecking moment when Malaysia Tigers earned a penalty corner in the 18th minute and Malaysia’s best known drag-flick specialist Muhammad Razie Rahim packs the ball through the net, beating goalkeeper Akash Chite to level the score 1-1 going into the third quarter.
Both teams were embroiled in touch-and-go moments in the third quarter, with Indian goalkeeper Akash making a good save from Haziq Samsul in the 38th minute and on the opposite end, Kumar dives to his left to push away a powerful shot from Indian captain Sardar Singh. With six minutes remaining, the Indians called for a video referral in the hope of getting another penalty corner after claiming that the ball had bounced off Razie’s stick and touch his body. The decision was in the negative.
But India had the final say on a hotly contested night with just two minutes and 22 seconds remaining to the end when the mercurial penalty corner specialist Rupinder slammed the ball into the top of the net to go 2-1 ahead.
Malaysia had another chance with a minute to be played but that was carried away by Chikte to help India win the 19th contest between the two nations and finish the group stages with yet another win.
Malaysian head coach, Stephen van Huizen, said: “India played well with just 10 men in the last quarter to neutralise us and get the goal in the last few minutes. Both had chances to win the game.”
“I call it a stolen victory,” said Indian head coach Roelant Oltmans. “In the second half Malaysia deserved to win. They played very well and our part we too should have scored more in the first half but missed our chances. But we are very happy with this win.”
Korea also came back from a goal down to edge Japan 4-3 and qualified for the semi-finals. Today’s victory by the Koreans had also been good news for Pakistan who gained an ‘automatic entry’ into the last four without having to think much of the outcome of their last round-robin league match against China tomorrow.
The Koreans have amassed seven points from four matches and Pakistan has six. Both teams have one game on hand – Koreans meet Malaysia Tigers and Pakistan entertains China.
Even should China beat Pakistan, it would make no difference as the China would have obtained six points in total and take them into the fifth-sixth classification match playoff against Japan.