In-form drag-flick expert Rupinder Pal Singh scored a brace as top-ranked India eked out a 2-1 win over Malaysia to secure the top spot in the round-robin stage in the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament here.
Rupinder, who had scored eight goals before this match, gave world No.6 India the lead in the 12th minute but Razie Rahim equalised for world No.14 Malaysia in the 18th minute. However, Rupinder once again stepped up to convert a penalty corner to make it 2-1.
With this win, Roelant Oltmans-coached India have 13 points having played all the five games, while Malaysia remained in the second spot with nine points from four games.
Meanwhile, South Korea sealed a spot in the semi-finals following a 4-3 win over Japan, who lost five consecutive matches. South Korea are third on the table with seven points from four matches, while fourth-placed Pakistan face fifth-placed China on Thursday.
Pakistan have six points from four matches while the Chinese have three points. Pakistan not only have three points more than China but the goal difference of -1 for the former world champions could come into play even if China, who have a goal difference of (-14), manage a win.
The match at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium between India and Pakistan started at a very good pace with both the teams, known for their counter-attacking game, at it from the very beginning.
India, however, looked better and earned a penalty corner in the third minute. Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam brought out his stick to the left to deny Rupinder’s powerful flick in the third minute.
But Rupinder gave India a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute when the Punjab set-piece specialist scored on a rebound after his penalty corner flick hit the side bar and fell just in front of him.
India’s quick counter-attacking game came to the fore when Nikkin Thimmaiah led a stirring attack and squared for Akashdeep, who attempted a reverse-hand strike that was padded away by Subraniam in the 15th minute.
A couple of minutes into the second quarter, Affan Yousuf wasted a chance of putting India 2-0 up as Akashdeep set him up with just Subramaniam to beat but the former fired it over.
But the Malaysians levelled from the penalty corner as Razie flicked past young Indian custodian Akash Chikte, who was standing in for injured captain P.R. Sreejesh, in the 18th minute. Chikte quickly fell down during an untimely jump and it allowed Razie to send the ball over him.
Chitke, however, later proved his quality as he denied a close-range deflection near his right post to keep India at 1-1 till the half-time.
After the 10-minute break, India made numerous goal-scoring chances in the third quarter but the goal didn’t come.
Talwinder Singh’s drive from a close angle was blocked by custodian Subramaniam but the ball popped out, giving India a penalty corner. But Rupinder’s flick to the right was palmed away by the Malaysian custodian in the 37th minute.
Malaysia too had their moments earning two penalty corners in the final five minutes of the third and penultimate quarter but they were not able to go past the Indian defence. While Razie was denied by defender Surender Kumar, Shahril Saabah’s lethargic flick was blocked by Chikte.
Malaysia got another opportunity of taking a lead when an indisciplined defensive activity from India’s part earned the hosts a penalty corner in the 56th minute. But Razie’s flick went wide off the mark.
But India hit back in a fierce attack and earned a penalty corner which was duly converted by Rupinder with just 2.15 minutes left on the clock, stunning the home fans.
The hopes of the Malaysian fans revived as they were rewarded with a penalty corner in the final minute but Razie’s high flick was blocked by Chikte, paving the way for India’s 2-1 win.