Ipoh (Malaysia): India yet again paid the price of some sloppy defending and conceded a late goal to lose 2-3 to lower-ranked Malaysia and crash out of the title race of the 24th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here yesterday.
Rupinder Pal Singh
As has been the story in this tournament for India, the Sardar Singh-led side wasted numerous scoring opportunities and their fragile backline broke down under pressure at crucial junctures. India conceded a goal with two minutes remaining in the match to lose the match. Faizaal Saari (17th minute), Haziq Samsul (35th) and Shahrun Abdullah (58th) scored the goals to hand Malaysia their first win in the tournament after two consecutive defeats.
For India, Rupinder Pal Singh (20th, 51st) converted two penalty corners for India but it was not enough to give new chief coach Paul van Ass his first taste of victory. With just one point from three games, India are out of the race for Sunday's final. India play lowly Canada tomorrow before facing world champions Australia on Saturday, while Malaysia will be up against Korea today.
The match began after almost an hours delay after heavy rains and lightening struck the stadium minutes before the scheduled start. Compared to their first two games, the Indians did not have the best of starts as Malaysia fought stick to stick to give their opponents some tough time. The initial few minutes of the match was a midfield slugfest as both the tams tried hard to take control of the proceedings.
The Malaysians looked sharper and threatening and were the first to attempt on the goal but Faizal Saar's reverse hit in the fifth minute was just off the target. In the 11th minute, Satbir Singh squandered a bright chance when he failed to capitalize on a pass by fumbling the opportunity inside the opposition circle.
Minutes later, V R Raghunath set it up for Akashdeep Singh with some brilliant stick work but the latter's reverse hit was kept out by an agile Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramiam, who is playing in his 250th international match. Some sloppy defending saw India concede a penalty corner in the 17th minute and Saari made full use of the chance by converting it with a low powerful flick to the left of India custodian P R Sreejesh.
Minutes later, another defensive error, this time by Rupinder, gave Malaysia another golden chance but Sreejesh came to India's rescue by denying Saari. In the very next move, India secured their first penalty corner which was perfectly converted by Rupinder to level the scores. India had another chance soon with S K Uthappa and Gurbaj Singh setting it up for Satbir with a fine one-two but the striker hit it straight to the Malaysian goalkeeper.
Ramandeep Singh's poor show in the tournament continued as he missed an open chance two minutes from halfway break. With ample time to pick his spot, an unmarked Ramandeep hit the ball straight to the Malaysian goalkeeper from close range as both the team went into the breather locked at 1-1. The Indians continued to miss chances, as four minutes into the second half Akashdeep shot wide from top of the D. Sloppy defending inside their circle cost India dearly as Malaysia restored their lead in the 35th minute through Haziq Samsul's field effort.
India got another penalty corner in the third quarter but Rupinder wasted the chance. Trailing by a goal, India came out with all guns blazing in the fourth quarter and managed to earn three penalty corners in quick succession, the last of which was converted by Rupinder. It was open, end to end hockey in the last 10 minutes of
the game as both the teams went for the offensive in search of the winner.
India gave everything for the winner and in the 54th minute came close to securing the lead by the striking duo of Akashdeep and Ramandeep but failed to get a stick to Gurbaj's brilliant cross from the right flank. The Indians had another chance when Kothajit Singh set it up for Uthappa, whose initial shot was saved by the Malaysian goalkeeper only to fell in front of Ramandeep's sticks who pushed wide. Two minutes later, it was all over for India as Abdullah scored the winner for Malaysia after cashing on a defensive mistake by Gurbaj inside the circle.