In what could go down in the history of Asian hockey as a momentous final, India recovered three times to level, but eventually slithered down the valley of defeat against Korea in the final of the Asia Cup here on Sunday.
Korea’s 4-3 win confirmed its continental berth to the World Cup at The Hague. This was Korea’s fourth triumph in the competition.
Interestingly, this outcome helped Malaysia, which finished fourth, to earn its place in the World Cup.
If there was a tie that contained all the ingredients of a fitting finale, it emerged at the Azlan Shah stadium on Sunday. True, it was patchy in some parts, but it underscored the technical excellence and the tactical approach of the teams.
Korea, which had lost the earlier meeting in the group stage, was marginally more cohesive when it came to fashioning sallies that forced the Indian defenders into repeated errors.
The brightest patch for the Koreans came in the first half when they slammed in two goals in two minutes. Jang Jong converted a penalty corner beating the in-form Sreejesh, and before the cheers tapered off came the second, scored beautifully by You Hyo Sik.
On resumption, the Indian attack looked palpably aggressive and well synchronised thanks to crisp passes by Sardar Singh and Kothajit Singh, helped by Birendra Lakra.
Quite few openings were conceived. Midway through, Rupinder Pal Singh produced a thunderous drive from a penalty corner to heighten the tension for the Koreans. Minutes later, India struck again when a Chenglensana initiative culminated in Nikkin Thimmaiah slotting the ball into the cage.
Level amidst excitement all round, the Indian defenders were stretched by a series of raids prompted by Lee Nam Yong. A penalty corner scrimmage off a shot by Jang Jong ended in Aussie umpire Murray Grime awarding a penalty stroke, which Nam Hyun Woo converted without fuss.
If anyone had thought that India was caving in, a goal by Mandeep Singh off a clear cross by Birendra Lakra brought the cheers back. At 3-3, with only minutes remaining, it was touch-and-go for both teams. The possibility of a tie-breaker was in the air.
But the disastrous moment came when the defence fumbled, conceding a penalty corner which enabled Kang Moon to snatch the match winner three minutes from the end amidst spontaneous joy of the Korean supporters.
Malaysia, which came into the competition in quest of that elusive gold, finished without a medal of any hue when Pakistan inflicted a 3-1 defeat.
List of participants
Meanwhile, the Asian Hockey Federation confirmed on Sunday the list of participants for the next AHF Champions Trophy to be held in Kakamigahara (Japan) from November 1 to 10.
The men’s section consists of China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Oman and Pakistan, while the women’s group comprises China, India, Japan and Malaysia.
Briefing the media after the council meeting here, Tan Sri Alagendra, secretary-general, AHF, announced that Vietnam would be allowed to participate in the next SEA Games although it is not yet a member of FIH or AHF.
The SEA Games are scheduled to be held in Myanmar in December.
A women’s development conference is to be held in Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with the next Asia Cup for women from September 21 to 27.
The results: Final: Korea 4 (Jang Jong, You Hyo Sik, Nam Hyun Woo, Kang Moon Kweon) bt India 3 (Rupinder Pal Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah, Mandeep Singh). 3-4: Pakistan 3 (Abdul Haseen Khan 2, Muhammad Imran) bt Malaysia 1 (Faisal Saari).
Final placings: 1. Korea, 2. India, 3. Pakistan, 4. Malaysia, 5. Japan, 6. Oman, 7.Bangladesh, 8. Chinese Taipei.
Player of the tournament: V.R. Raghunath (India); Man of the final: Kang Moon Kweon (Korea); Top scorer: Jang Jong (8 goals) Korea; Best goal-keeper: Sreejesh (India); Fair play: Japan.