Riding on a hat-trick by Boby Singh Dhami, the Indian junior men’s hockey team stormed into the final of the Men’s Junior Asia Cup 2023 as they defeated Korea 9-1 in the first semifinal in Salalah, Oman on Wednesday.

In the second semifinal, Pakistan defeated Malaysia 6-2 to enter the final. India and Pakistan had earlier played out a 1-1 draw in the group stage, the only match either team hasn’t won so far.

For India, the scorers were Sunit Lakra (13’), Araijeet Singh Hundal (19’), Boby Singh Dhami (31’, 39’, 55’), Angad Bir Singh (34’), Captain Uttam Singh (38’), Vishnukant Singh (51’), Sharda Nand Tiwari (57’). Meanwhile for Korea it was Keonyeol Hwang (46’) who scored the only goal late in the piece.

In the early exchanges, it was the Koreans who looked more dangerous; however, they came up against a well-organised Indian defensive unit, that absorbed the pressure well. Just after the half-way mark in the first quarter, the India started to go through the gears, pushing Korea back into their half, with a couple of attacks originating from the right. With a couple of minutes left in the first quarter, Sunit Lakra (13’) smashed it into the net, giving India a 1-0 lead against Korea at the break.

Both sides began the second phase well, matching each other toe to toe in the early exchanges, before the Indians doubled the lead. Araijeet Singh Hundal (19’) found himself in space inside the area and finished masterfully from close range. From then on in, the Koreans kept looking for a way to goal, but India’s defenders kept them at arm’s length. Meanwhile, the Uttam Singh-led side almost added a third goal but went into the half-time break leading 2-0.

The taps opened in the third quarter.

Right after the pushback, Dhami’s (31’) high press came in handy as he recovered possession deep in Korean half and smashed it home to make it 3-0 for India. Just a few minutes later, Angad Bir Singh (34’) made it 4-0. India continued to attack and soon after added a couple of more goals in quick succession, as Captain Uttam Singh (38’) and Dhami (39’) netted to make it 6-0 in their favour. A rare Korean attack almost led to a goal, however goalkeeper Mohith Shashikumar stood firm to see India through the 3rd quarter break with a healthy lead.

Keonyeol Hwang (46’) got Korea on to the scoresheet, making it 6-1 when he converted a Penalty Corner in the first minute of the final quarter. But India restored the six-goal lead shortly after, when Vishnukant Singh (51’) made it 7-1, being alert from his own Penalty Corner injection. With five minutes left in the contest, Dhami (55’) completed his hat-trick, as India Team extended the lead to 8-1. A couple of minutes later, Sharda Nand Tiwari’s (57’) well directed shot from a Penalty Corner made it 9-1.

India, who are three-time winners of the Men’s Junior Asia Cup, will be eyeing a fourth title. Up against them are Pakistan, who scored four goals in the fourth quarter to defeat Malaysia after things were level 2-2 at the end of Q3.

India, by reaching the semifinal, had already assured themselves of a place in the upcoming Junior Hockey World Cup in Malaysia.