Virtually assured of a World Cup berth, India produced an inspiring performance beating hosts Malaysia 2-0 to enter the final of the 9th Asia Cup hockey tournament on Friday.
The Koreans have already qualified for the World Cup while India and Malaysia have all but qualified for the World Cup as the first and second reserves.
There was some fantastic news awaiting the Indian team prior to the start of their semi—final clash against the Malaysians after defending champions South Korea beat Pakistan 2—1 in a hard—fought first semi—final at the Sultan Azlan Shah stadium.
Three—time champions Pakistan’s defeat meant that India and Malaysia now have virtually qualified for next year’s World Cup, the official confirmation of which will come only after the conclusion of the Oceania Cup in November.
It will also be the first time Pakistan will not feature in the World Cup since it started in Barcelona back in 1971.
Buoyed by this development, the Indians started the semi—final against Malaysia on a confident note and stunned the packed home crowd at the Azlan Shah Stadium with an early goal.
Raghunath took his goal—tally to seven when the big—bodied dragflicker converted India’s first penalty corner in the eighth minute.
However, it was the home team which enjoyed the early share of exchanges and had couple of scoring chances at the start.
While on the first occasion Faizal Saari missed from a close range, an unmarked Nabil Fiqri Mohd Noor shot wide a minute later with only Indian custodian P R Sreejesh to beat.
The Malaysian’s created lot of scoring opportunities in the entire 70 minutes but the Indian defence led goalkeeper Sreejesh stood like rock to thwart the chances.
If it was not for Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam, India could have doubled their lead just four minutes from half—time. An alert Subramiam made a fine save to deny Rupinderpal Singh from their second penalty corner as India went into the breather leading by a goal.
Missed chances were the order of the day for Malaysia as they continued to create numerous scoring opportunities after the change of ends but failed to cash on them.
Malaysia earned back—to—back penalty corners 10 minutes into the second half but a brilliant Sreejesh under the Indian goal denied the hosts with a fine save.
To the agony of the partisan home crowd, Izwan Firdaus Ahmad Tajuddin missed an open chance in the 58th minute.
The Indians were quick to rub salt into Malaysia’s wounds by doubling the lead in the 60th minute through Mandeep Singh’s who scored his fifth of the tournament after a fine one—two with Ramandeep Singh.
The Malaysians tried hard, but in the last few minutes with continuous raids but the Indian defence managed to hold to their lead.
India will play South Korea in the summit clash on Sunday. India had earlier defeated the Koreans 2—0 in the pool stages.