It was a close call but defending champions South Korea reaffirmed their status as Asia’s best beating India 4-3 in a nerve-wracking final of the ninth Asia Cup hockey tournament at the Azlan Shah Stadium here yesterday.
The Koreans played one of their best games here and managed to subdue a determined Indian side hoping seal a direct berth to the 2014 World Cup by winning the title. The Koreans had already booked their World Cup place going into the match. The Indians will have to now wait for the official confirmation from the International Hockey Federation (IHF) after the conclusion of the Oceania Cup in November.
If Australia or New Zealand, who have already qualified for the World Cup, fail to win the Oceania tournament — an unlikely scenario — that would put India’s chances of qualifying in jeopardy. India and South Korea had already locked horns in the group stage here with India beating the four-time champions 2-0. But this time, it was the Koreans, who started off aggressively and were two goals up by half-time.
Korean penalty corner specialists Jang Jong-hyun was on target in the 28th minute. The goal took his tally to eight in the top-scorers’ list. A minute later You Hyo-sik added the second from close range after three Indian defenders were beaten by a square pass into the striking circle. India fought back in the second half and in the 48th minute, made their way back into the match when Rupinderpal Singh scored from a penalty corner. Then, in the 55th minute, Nithin Thimmaiah added a field goal making it 2-2.
Nam Hyun-woo regained the lead for the Koreans in the 57th minute, only to see Mandeep Singh score from close range in the 66th minute. As a penalty shootout loomed, the Koreans earned a penalty corner in the 68th minute. Instead of taking a direct hit they played a variation and Kang Moon-kweon scored from the left.