Ipoh (Malaysia): The loss to New Zealand complicating matters for them, an inconsistent India will take on Malaysia in a do-or-die battle to secure a final berth in their final league fixture of the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here today.
India, who have been unimpressive so far except for the 5-1 victory over arch-rivals Pakistan, need to pull off a victory against Malaysia tomorrow to ensure their place in the final match of the tournament, which they have won five times and were bronze medallists last year. World champions Australia have already qualified for the final to be played on Saturday with 15 points from five successive wins.
India have had an edge in past encounters against Malaysia, who will, however, draw inspiration from their 3-2 win over the Asian Games champions during last year"s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at the same venue. In the last meeting between these two teams, India shattered Malaysia"s hopes of qualifying for the Olympic Games by winning 3-2 in last year"s World League Semifinals at Antwerp (Belgium).
Avenging that loss will be on Malaysia"s mind, although they have faint hopes of qualifying for the final after being held to a draw by Canada two days ago. The hosts need to defeat India by seven goals to earn a place in the final. A victory over India will enable Malaysia to equal New Zealand"s points tally as well as the
goal-difference, but the home team will be ahead in goals scored. Otherwise, they can only aspire for a bronze medal.
The tussle for the second spot in the league standings, which will earn a title encounter with Australia, is between India and defending champions New Zealand. New Zealand, after their 2-1 victory over India yesterday, moved into the second place as they finished their six league outings with 11 points, while India are on nine points from five matches.
India"s task of clinching a place in the title match is simpler. They just need a victory tomorrow to finish above New Zealand, who will then have to play for the bronze medal. India raised the level of their game to post a 5-1 victory over Pakistan on Tuesday, but their performance slackened a bit the following day against New Zealand as they lost 1-2 in extremely hot and humid afternoon conditions.