India reached the final of the Asian Champions Trophy for the third straight time with a 3-2 win over Malaysia on Thursday.
Gurjit Kaur, Vandana Katariya and Lalremsiami scored to give India an opportunity to defend their title on Sunday. The women in blue will play their final group match against South Korea on Saturday.
India coach Sjoerd Marijne said he was “very happy” that the team had qualified for the final but would have liked them “to score more goals”.
India’s victory margin of 3-2 is smaller than their 4-1 win against the Malaysians in the Commonwealth Games. The Indian women, though, are without the services of their regular skipper and playmaker Rani Rampal, and one of their most experienced defenders Sushila Chanu.
But that didn’t hamper the team from playing a largely offensive game in this tournament. And Thursday was no different.
Just three minutes into the game, Gurjit Kaur smashed a shot wide coming in from the right flank, but the attack ruffled the Malaysian defence. From then on, they seemed more alert. The entire first quarter was an arm-wrestling match between the Indian attack and the Malaysian defence. Malaysia also failed to capitalise on a couple of penalty corners.
Malaysia gifts a chance to Vandana
India took the lead a minute into the second quarter off a perfect penalty corner. India have missed many penalty corners in this tournament but this one doesn’t count in that list. Lililma Minz struck the ball cleanly to Gurjit Kaur, who caught it, waited for half a second before drag-flicking it to the Malaysian net.
India’s second goal came at the start of the third quarter off a defensive blunder. A Malaysian defender, in her attempt to clear the ball from the goalmouth, sent the ball straight to Vandana who stood a few feet apart. This was a free chance that the experienced forward didn’t miss.
India dominated the third quarter as well, although Malaysia scored a goal in this period off a penalty stroke. In order to stop Nuramirah Zulkifli’s dangerous run (one of the very few made by the Malaysians), Gurjit stretched her stick that tripped the Malaysian. Nuraini Rashid made no mistake in the penalty stroke.
India’s third goal was their most spectacular, perhaps the best of the match. Four feet into the Malaysian half, Sunita Lakra, from the centre, slapped a pass to Lalremsiami stationed at the penalty circle. The teenager, to the surprise of her three surrounding defenders and the goalkeeper, just deflected the ball, which soared a little, bounced once, beat the diving goalie and hit the Malaysian net.
In the final quarter, Malaysia had nothing to lose but India wanted to score more. For the first six minutes, the ball was mostly possessed by Malaysia and they had more circle entries. India, trying to attack more, let their guard down and the Malaysians capitalised from an excellent counterattack.
Lilima’s attempted pass was intercepted by Nuraini and she passed to Hanis Onh. The latter made a brilliant run evading two Indian defenders. Swati took the ball from her outside the penalty circle but passed it back to her. Onh then took advantage of her position and scored the second goal for the Malaysians. But that was their last chance at goal as the Indians took control of the rest of the match.