IPOH - India relied on a penultimate-minute goal by striker SV Sunil as they beat archrivals Pakistan 2-1 in a thrilling match of the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament on Thursday. Sunil made a diving effort to push the ball into the goal in the 69th minute to clinch the issue for India and keep themselves in the hunt for a podium finish. Sardar Singh created the opening with his defence-splitting pass to the right and Sunil capitalised on the chance.
India, who are already out of contention for a final berth, had earlier opened the scoring in the 30th minute through Sandeep Singh's penalty corner conversion while Pakistan equalised through a penalty corner goal by skipper Sohail Abbas in the 59th minute.
The victory gave India a chance to stay in the hunt for the bronze medal match. India collected nine points from their six round-robin league matches and now await the other results to know who would be their opponent in the playoffs for final positions.
In a match devoid of many openings for field goals, Pakistan had the first look at the Indian goal in the 13th minute when unmarked Shafqat Rasool received a cross from right on top of circle, but failed to beat goalkeeper Bharat Chetri with his reverse hit. Pakistan then forced two penalty corners in the next minute, but the Indian defence stood firm.
Not many goal-bearing moves were produced by either teams and then Indian strikers finally exerted pressure to earn a penalty corner that was converted by Sandeep, who sent a rising drag-flick into the net to put India ahead in the half-hour mark.
A minute later, Shivendra failed to trap Tushar Khandekar's defence-splitting cross from left. Pakistan then forced two penalty corners in the last two minutes of the first half, but failed to cause any danger in the absence of ace penalty corner shooter Sohail Abbas who was off the pitch.
India earned their second penalty corner three minutes into the second half but also failed to cause any trouble with Sandeep not there to take the shot.
Abbas was back to take Pakistan's next penalty corner and saw his low shot being deflected out in the 45th minute. He made amends in the next penalty corner that came in the 59th minute by sending a grounder into the boards.
India's defence came under a lot of pressure for 10 minutes in the second half as Pakistani strikers repeatedly broke through.
India went out looking for a late goal and forced their last penalty corner in the 67th minute, but Sandeep's rising shot was blocked by a defender.
Two minutes later, when a draw seemed on the horizon, Sardar's defence splitting pass from the centre created an opening that was converted by Sunil, who dived forward to push the ball in.
Pakistan have just three points from five games, having lost four successive matches after starting with a victory over Argentina.
Earlier, South Korea held Great Britain to a 1-1 draw, a result that severely affected favourites Great Britain's chances of making it to the final.
Great Britain now have eight points from five games, while South Korea have five from as many matches. New Zealand and Argentina, the other main contenders, have nine points each.
South Korea took the lead in the 23rd minute as Yoon Sung-Hoon picked up a long diagonal ball on top of the circle and beat the defence with a fine shot.
Great Britain pressed hard and equalised in the 50th minute through Jonty Clarke's dazzling goal after receiving a pass from Ashley Jackson inside the circle. In the penultimate game, Great Britain faced Korea knowing that a win would take them to the top of the standings in Malaysia. Korea came into the game in sixth place hoping to move up the table to fight it out for the higher placings on Sunday. As it was both sides had to settle for a 1-1 draw in the searing heat.
The first half saw very few clear cut chances for either side. Korea had the majority of the possession and scored the solitary goal of the half thanks to Yoon Sung Hoon who fired home from the top of the circle. Great Britain came out refreshed and dominated significant spells of the second half with Reading’s Jonty Clarke evening up the score line in the 50th minute with a fantastic solo effort.
The story of the match was two goalkeepers playing at the very top of their games; Great Britain and Cannock’s James Fair made two world class saves in the first and final minutes and Korea’sMyung Ho Lee kept his side in the game on numerous occasions in the second half.
Speaking after the game, Great Britain Head Coach Jason Lee said, “It was a much better second half than first and I’m really pleased with the quality of play we managed to produce. The players gave absolutely everything and that was clear to see at the end of the game when many of them collapsed with fatigue.” Being the first match of the day the game was played in very humid and wet conditions with the temperate over 30 degrees Celsius.
Korea started the game very brightly with their initial attack forcing two top class saves from Fair in Great Britain’s goal before the clock had even registered one minute. Although the first minute promised much there was relatively little goal mouth action in the early stages of the match, both sides showed good build up play but couldn’t capitalise with the final ball.
As the new substitutions rolled on, Great Britain, playing in white shirts with blue shorts and socks, took a little while to settle and Korea enjoyed the majority of the possession. With 13 minutes left to play in the first half Yoon Sung Hoon wrong footed Wimbledon’s Ben Hawes at the top of the circle he hit his shot well and it flew past Fair whose valiant effort to push it wide with his glove was not successful.
Korea looked comfortable with their one goal advantage and although Great Britain did enjoy some good periods of play in the closing minutes of the half their circle penetrations were kept to a minimum. Korea on the other hand looked far more dangerous on the break; Loughborough Students’ Richard Smith and Hampstead and Westminster’s Dan Fox both made vital tackles to keep Great Britain within a goal of Korea as the half time hooter sounded.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first and Korea had two penalty corners within the first five minutes, however they were unable to convert either of the chances. As the rain started to pour down the conditions became even more difficult.
Although Korea looked in control early on Great Britain did not panic and as they began to build up their play their attacks started to look more threatening. Old Loughtonians’ Harry Martin was initially denied by Lee in Korea’s goal after some good build up play but seconds later the breakthrough came and the score line was evened. East Grinstead’s Ashley Jackson passed a disguised shot through the Korean defence to Clarke at the top of the circle who took the ball away from the approaching defender and hit a blistering shot which flew past Lee in goal.
Korea immediately attacked at the other end and won their third penalty corner of the game, but again they were not able to convert their chance. The game was opening up and the next chance fell to East Grinstead’s Barry Middleton when he got a touch on a long range ball which had been fired into the circle right in front of the Korean keeper who made a fantastic save to push Middleton’s attempt wide.
With 13 minutes to go Korea were reduced to 10 men following a yellow card and Great Britain made the most of their one man advantage with a handful of chances. Surbiton’s Richard Alexander would have expected to score as he found himself with an open goal after Lee was beaten, but his shot went over the crossbar. The next chance came moments later when Clarke, again in the thick of the action, pulled a reverse stick shot at goal from the narrowest of angles only to see his attempt saved by Lee onto the near post. Harry Martin couldn’t get a stick to the rebound as it came back into play.
Great Britain continued to dominate and gave absolutely everything trying to find the winning goal. Hawes made a great run into the circle and created his own space to get a shot away, but again Lee came up with the goods to keep his side in the game.
Both teams looked exhausted in the final minute, but Fair had to be alert as he was called upon to stop a final Korean attack.
Speaking after the game, Great Britain manager Andy Halliday said, “We showed a lot of character tonight and the players gave absolutely everything out there on the pitch. We needed to take the chances we had in the second half and must convert more against Pakistan when we play them on Saturday.”
Today is a rest day for the players ahead of the final preliminary games on Saturday. Now Great Britain must win their next match against Pakistan at 09:05 BST on Saturday and rely on other results going their way if they are to make the final.