Defending champions India were held to a 0-0 draw by Malaysia in the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament on Tuesday.
India, undefeated in the tournament for the fourth match in a row, have almost secured their spot in the semi-finals. They will play their final group game against South Korea on Wednesday.
India’s match against Malaysia was expected to be the best one of the tournament because: a) they are top two sides of the tournament b) Malaysia (ranked 13th) had beaten India (ranked fifth) at the Asian Games and, so, there were narratives of a payback.
But the teams headed to the half-time break, goalless. The Malaysians started the game well, keeping the ball with them, hardly giving it away to India. But within a few minutes, the men in blue appeared a more settled unit. They made more interceptions and the flow of passes was smooth. India created a flurry of chances but missed converting them.
On the seventh minute, Mandeep Singh – at the goalmouth – failed to latch on to a cross from Gurjant Singh in the left.
A minute later, Dilpreet Singh – after receiving an inadvertent deflection from the Malaysian defender – shot the ball wide from inside the opposition circle. He just had the goalkeeper to beat.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Mandeep got the ball just outside the Malaysian circle. He flicked the ball, trying to find the right top corner of the net. But his shot, which had a little too much power, flew wide.
The men in blue also missed converting their first penalty corner of the match. Harmanpreet Singh flicked the ball with great power but straight at the Malaysian ‘keeper, who had little trouble blocking it.
India had breached the Malaysian circle in the first quarter on 10 occasions and had four shots on goal. Malaysia had just three circle entries and no shot on goal. India, clearly, were the better team but they didn’t have a goal to show.
The intensity of both teams dropped in the second quarter. India failed to create a chance even as they breached the Malaysian circle on numerous occasions.
“It’s a little frustrating to see us having so many circle entries (13) but not many shots on goals. The boys need to be cool while making the final pass,” said coach Harendra Singh at the half-time break.
But even in the following two quarters, India weren’t able to get the passes inside the circle right. The Malaysian defence grew more resilient in the second half and the men in blue had only two shots on goal in this phase.
India’s best chances to take a lead came in the fourth quarter via two penalty corners. But Harmanpreet and Akashdeep Singh failed to flick the ball into the Malaysian net.
Malaysia attempted a spirited counterattack in the dying seconds of the game. But one of their attackers lost balance and couldn’t stop the ball from going out of play.