The script to the semifinal in the seventh edition of the Asia Cup women’s hockey championship was probably crafted even while cataloguing the schedules.
Predictably, the top four in the region reached their assigned spots, albeit with different degree of effort overcoming the challenges in key contests.
Korea was professional and China surprisingly laborious, even to the point of losing its pre-eminence in Pool ‘A’ until India came up with an incredibly poor show against Malaysia raising misgivings over a finish at the podium in the championship.
The defending champion, Japan, also had phases of stress, especially in the game against Korea in the Pool encounter.
What came as rude shake up for India was the gumption with, which Malaysia forced it to fight for the equaliser and share points. Only a victory would have given India the top spot in the pool on a better goal difference with China.
“We were lucky not to lose,” confessed coach M.K.Kaushik after the match. He was clearly disappointed with the errors committed inside the circle and the palpable deficiency in the area of penalty corner conversion.
The statistics is revealing. India had eight and scored one, while Malaysia secured a solo penalty corner in the third minute and stunned India.
Admittedly, Malaysia was a better side on Wednesday. Coach Yahya Atan deserves commendation for the way he had motivated the players, who rose to the occasion and played perfectly to give several painful moments to the more seasoned opponent in front of the AHF President, Sultan Azlan Shah.
Skipper Nadia needs to be singled out for providing the inspiration. As the creator from the pivotal position, Nadia, along with Othman on the right, Juliana Muhammad Din and goalkeeper Farah Yahya, gave Malaysian hockey a vibrant identity, signalling a brighter future in the continent than what it has been.
It goes without saying that India requires to sew up several loopholes. The hard work of Saba Anjum and Dipika Thakur notwithstanding, the attack is inconsistent and innocuous.
Neither Jasjeet Handa nor the celebrated Surinder Kaur has been a success so far. Rani Ramphal simply faded away after that one show against Thailand.
Midfielder Asuntha Lakra and left half Mamta Kharb have contributed immensely but having a dribbler and striker in the class of Mamta as the wing half is a point for debate, especially when the principal strikers have not delivered in the manner expected. Goal-keeping and deep defence are two areas that do not generate much confidence.
Of the other three, Korea is in top form thanks to the inputs by the former stalwart of the men’s team, Kang Keon Wook, who reckons the penalty flicker Seul Ki Cheon as one among the best in contemporary hockey.
Ma Yibo emerges as the threat to any goal-keeper from China, for whom coach, Kim Sang Ryul, is entrusted with the task of chalking out the strategy. The poker-faced Korean is competent to conjure several surprises. Japan may lack the flair, but it is methodical.
A nail-biting semi-final contests on the cards when the competition resumes on Friday.
Friday’s matches: (5-8) Malaysia v Hong Kong (11-30 a.m.); semi-final: China v Japan (1-30 p.m.); (5-8) Kazakhstan v Singapore (2 p.m.); semi-final: India v Korea (4 p.m.).