Defending champions India were on Thursday knocked out of the Asian Games gold medal contention and denied a direct entry into the 2020 Olympics, with Malaysia again proving to be their Achilles heel in the men’s hockey semifinals. Also Read - Indian Hockey Team Improving Under Graham Reid: Birendra Lakra
The Malaysians handed India a heartbreaking 6-7 loss in sudden death after an exhausting shoot-off. Also Read - HI Announces 24-Man Squad for FIH Hockey Pro League Matches Against Australia
Malaysia, who had beaten India in the last-four stage eight years ago at Guangzhou, made their wasteful opponents pay for their mistakes, both in regulation time and shoot-off. Also Read - Hockey: Manpreet Singh to Lead India Against Belgium, Raj Kumar Pal is Only Newcomer
Both teams were tied at 2-2 after 60 minutes.
India conceded a late goal to push the match into shoot-off after Harmanpreet Singh and Varun Kumar had scored from penalty corners in the 33rd and 40th minute. Malaysia struck through Faizal Saari (39th min) and Muhammad Razie, who found the all-important equaliser less than two minutes before the end of regulation time.
In the shoot-off, it was anyone’s game and Malaysia handled the nerves better to make their second Asiad final.
India, who had scored a record 76 goals in the group stage, were left stunned after S V Sunil missed his attempt in the sudden death. Only Akashdeep and Harmanpreet scored in the first five shots of the shoot-off while Manpreet Singh, Dilpreet Singh and Sunil faltered.
Goalkeeper P R Sreejesh kept India in the game as he only let in two goals from Muhammad Ashari and Fitri Saari. Tengku Ahmad, Faizal Saari and Muhammad Azuan missed the target for Malaysia.
In sudden death, Malaysia’s all five attempts were successful while India scored the first four before Sunil cracked under pressure.
Earlier, India were on the offensive from the word go, earning a penalty corner in the first minute of the match. But Harmanpreet had his flick saved by the Malaysian custodian Kumar Subramaniam. Four minutes later, it was Malaysia’s turn and drag-flicker Muhammad Ashari even found the net, only for the goal to be disallowed by the video umpire as a foul was committed.
India penetrated the opposition circle at will. A flurry of penalty corners, in total four, came India’s way in the opening quarter but they were unable to convert. Against the run of play, Malaysia, earned a couple of penalty corners in the 13th minute, but P R Sreejesh was up to the task at the goal.
The pace of the second quarter was erratic. The 21st minute saw both teams getting a PC each and to India’s disappointment, Harmanpreet’s hit was easily saved by the Malaysian goalie.
Another chance was not converted after Manpreet’s ball into the circle did not get the required deflection. No more shots were on target and to add to India’s frustration, its referral for a penalty corner was rejected at the stroke of half time.
India finally broke the deadlock early in the third quarter as Harmanpreet slotted it in towards the left of the goalkeeper, helped by a deflection from a Malaysian defender standing at the goal. It was India’s sixth penalty corner.
However, it did not take long for Malaysia to bounce back. On a counter attack, they equalised in the 40th minute through a brilliant field goal with Faizal Saari, who fired it into the goal.
It was a breathless period of play and seconds later India converted an eighth penalty corner with dragflicker Rupinder Pal passing the ball to Varun Kumar, who found net to the right of the keeper. Just before the end of the quarter, Sardar Singh was shown a yellow card.
With Sardar already out, another yellow card to Surender Kumar early in the fourth quarter reduced India to nine players on the field. Malaysia went all-out and pushed India on the backfoot, earning a penalty corner in the 50th minute, but the attempt hit the cross bar.
Sardar came back and was on the ball straightaway, creating a couple of opportunities with some fine passing. On the other hand, Malaysia were desperate for a goal and were a tad unlucky to be trailing in the game. They got two penalty corners in the last five minutes and Razie scored from the second one.