Malaysia fights back to hold Korea

KUALA LUMPUR, MAY 7. The host Malaysia staged a superb fightback from a 0-2 deficit to hold title contender Korea to a 2-2 draw in a Pool A match in the junior Asia Cup men's hockey tournament here today.

It almost looked curtains for the host as it went into the second half trailing by goals from Jung Seong Tae and Lee Jung Seong at the Bukit Jalil stadium.

But the vastly improved Malaysia rallied brilliantly with Chua Boon Huat scoring both the goals - one off a penalty corner and the other via a stroke - to remain in contention for a semifinal berth from the tough group which also includes defending champion Pakistan.

Korea has seven points from three matches and Malaysia four from two. The host has two matches in hand against Pakistan and Singapore. Pakistan is on six points with a match against Korea also to go.

Earlier, Song Yi scored six goals including a hat- trick as China also kept alive its hopes of a last four place from Pool B with a 11-1 rout of lowly Uzbekistan.

Beaten by India and Japan, China will have to raise its game and score big wins against minnows Bangladesh and Iran if it is to clinch a spot in the semifinals.

Both Korea and Malaysia began defensively, knowing well that a defeat could jeopardise their chances of entering the next stage. Korea had only two men upfront, while Malaysia packed its midfield and kept Mohammed Fairul and Suhaimi forward to pounce on any loose balls.

The tactics almost worked for the host but for some poor work by the forwards. However, it was Korea which first mounted pressure in the 10th minute with a penalty corner.

A minute later, Malaysia earned its first penalty corner but a fumble undid the effort. The Malaysian attacks were led by Madzli, who apart from feeding the forwards also bottled up the Korean midfield.

Malaysia should have gone ahead in the 22nd minute, but Mohammed Fairuz Ramli fumbled with a beautiful pass from Suhaimi Ibrahim with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Korea, however, took the initiative and launched some good attacks, forcing its second penalty corner for the first goal. Jung Seong Tae slotted home a rebound to put Korea ahead.

Malaysia could have levelled in the 26th minute but Mohd. Ramli hit out with only the Korean goalkeeper in front. The Koreans counter-attacked through the left flank capitalising on some sloppy defending by Shanker Shanmugam. Time and again, he let the rivals through with erratic play. With just a minute left for the break, Shanker again made the mistake of letting Lee Jung Seon through, who with a deft move on the top of the circle slammed the ball into the top corner of the net to make it 2-0 for Korea.

Malaysia was on the offensive on change of ends, taking the fight to the Koreans but wasted three penalty corners, fumbling at the crucial moments.

India storms into semifinals

India continued to dominate its group, whipping Japan 9-2 to register its third victory and stormed into the semifinals on Saturday.

Star forward Gagan Ajit Singh scored three goals, Arjun Halappa and Len Aiyappa struck a brace each while Deepak Thakur and Bikramjeet Singh contributed one goal each as the Indians established their clear superiority in the match. Nakabeppu Konte and Nakayama Gakumaru reduced the margin for Japan.

Faced by a strong Indian forwardline, Japan employed a defensive strategy and had two defenders constantly on Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh, thus bottling up both the wings. Still India created a couple of chances in the first 10 minutes and almost scored when Deepak Thakur was in front but couldn't trap, instead dragging the ball into the goal with his foot. But a couple of minutes later, India earned its first penalty corner and Aiyappa's sizzling flick sped past the Japanese goalkeeper to give India a 1-0 lead.

Japan's only hope was to defend and the team did that with some efficiency as it crowded the midfield and the Indians constantly had to pass among themselves to create moves. Inderjit Singh found space in the 23rd minute and with a sudden burst of speed raced into the Japanese circle. Seeing the Japanese goalkeeper charging out, Inderjit passed the ball to Deepak Thakur who flicked in for India's second goal.

Five minutes later came the third goal when Prabhjot Singh raced into the Japanese circle from the left flank and crossed to Gagan Ajit Singh who just deflected in.

Japan has always been a dangerous team in counter- attack and just when India relaxed a bit, Nakabeppu Kouta pounced on a loose ball just inside the circle and hammered it past goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan to make it 1-3. But with just two minutes left for the break, India earned its second penalty corner and Aiyappa was right on target, his thunderous flick beating goalkeeper Takeda Kazuya all ends up to make it 4-1 in India's favour. The Indians continued their domination in the second session and slammed home five more goals to continue its big winning streak.

Three minutes after the break, India made a breakaway move which had Gagan in the Japanese circle. After dribbling past a defender, the speedy forward beat the onrushing Japanese goalkeeper with a crisp shot to make it 5-1 for India.

The Indians continued their attacks and in the 40th minute, it was Halappa who got into the act as raced into the circle to take a fine pass from Gagan and then shot past the diving Kazuya for India's sixth goal.

For almost 10 minutes, Japan managed to keep the Indian forwards at bay trying to forge a couple of attacks on their own. In the 57th minute, Japan earned two penalty corners off a swift counter-attack, and Gakumaru managed to put a rebound in off the second for Japan's second goal (2-6).

India was not too far behind. It scored its seventh goal when Gagan Ajit Singh was cut down by a defender in the rival circle off a swift move and Halappa confidently scooped in to right of the goalkeeper the resultant penalty stroke for his second goal of the match. Three minutes later, Gagan got his third goal and India's eighth when he shot in from close a pass by midfielder Bimal Lakra. India earned its third penalty corner in the 65th minute but Aaiyappa, going for a third consecutive winning flick couldn't control the ball. But with just 24 seconds remaining, India finally got its ninth goal off its fourth penalty corner as Bikramjit Singh shot in to join the goalfest.