An exemplary display by the defenders and gallant goalkeeping by Sreejesh helped India cruise into the semifinals, defeating defending champion South Korea 2-0 in the Asia Cup hockey championship here on Monday. The Indians scored once in each half.
Imagine a show with Korea unable to score off five penalty corners, all in the first half. Nothing disturbed the composure of Sreejesh, whose athleticism and alacrity under the bar stood pronounced. Even a cascade of sallies by the Koreans could not upset the rhythm and coordination of the defensive phalanx where Sardar Singh was conspicuous as ever.
But a good measure of credit should also go to wing-half Bimal Lakra and the hard working Chinglensana whose interceptions were near-perfect, taking a heavy load off the rest of the defenders.
India should consider itself lucky to survive the first half despite the tremendous pressure exerted by the Koreans. The early goal from an impeccable penalty corner conversion by Raghunath provided the needed confidence to hang on gamely.
The forwardline, notwithstanding its flurry of moves, failed to make capital of quite a few openings in the second half.
Though Malak Singh lost a good opportunity, Mandeep Singh obtained the second goal five minutes before the hooter after the move was initiated by Chenglensana, to put the issue beyond doubt.
India coach Roelant Oltmans admitted that the team had luck on its side in the first half, but acknowledged the role played by Sreejesh.
Gumption and rhythm
There was something to celebrate for the Omanis after recording their win in Pool B. Playing for the first time at this level, Oman, trained by former German international Michael Kurtz, displayed the gumption and rhythm to overcome a more seasoned unit like Bangladesh 4-2.
Initially, it looked as though Bangladesh would build up pressure gradually. But the defenders gave in to the more forthright approach of the Omani forwards who built up a sizeable 4-1 lead to the finish. Only a neat penalty corner drive by skipper Mamunur Rehman reduced the leeway.
Oman has three points from two matches, while Bangladesh is yet to open its account. Bangladesh takes on India in its third match. Oman’s next opponent is Korea, on Wednesday.
Spain makes the grade
The FIH announced on Sunday that Spain, which finished fifth in the European championships at Boom (Belgium), will be the ninth qualifier for the next World Cup at The Hague. This induction leaves three more places to be filled from three continental championships — the Asia Cup now in progress, the African Games and the Oceania Championship.
Malaysia is the third reserve followed by India. If any of the champion teams is in the already qualified list, the reserve team will go into the cluster of top 12 for the World Cup.
The nine qualifiers now are: Germany, the Netherlands (host), Belgium, England, Spain (Europe), Australia, New Zealand (Oceania), Argentina (Americas) and Korea (Asia).
Pool B: India 2 (V. Raghunath, Mandeep Singh) bt Korea 0.
Oman 4 (Hashim Ramadhan, Sher Muhammad Hoobais, Rajab Basim 2) bt Bangladesh 2 (Muhammad Roman, Mamunur Rehman).
Tuesday’s matches: Pakistan v Chinese Taipei (3.35 p.m.); Japan v Malaysia (5.35 p.m.).