India avoided late setbacks on Tuesday to defeat hosts Malaysia 4-2 in a high-scoring thriller at the 2019 Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament in Ipoh.

After a goal-less first period of play, Sumit scored first for India in the 17th minute while Sumit Kumar got the second towards the end of the half (27th minute). In between, Malaysia converted a penalty corner courtesy Razie Rahim in 21st minute.

In the third quarter, the pattern of winning penalty corners and not converting them continued for India but finally, the pressure paid off from set-plays. Varun Kumar scored of India’s eighth penalty corner to provide India a two-goal advantage. Both teams, overall, had an off-day from set-pieces converting just one of the nine penalty corners each.

In the final quarter, India did not look to just sit back and defend but the Malaysian pressure eventually paid off with three minutes to go as they reduced the deficit to just one goal. But, worries of a nervy finish were quickly put to rest for India, as Mandeep Singh immediately shot back with a field goal with seconds left on the clock.

After a not-so-convincing 2-0 win over Asian Games gold medalist Japan in the tournament opener, Manpreet Singh and his men conceded a goal in the final minute of the match to draw 1-1 against Korea on Sunday. Malaysia came into this match after 5-1 and 4-3 wins over Poland and Japan respectively.

An exciting game

The two teams began the first quarter with powerful counter attacks that kept the spectators on the edge of their seats. First, it was India to foray into the striking circle with some skillful tackle by forward Simranjeet Singh but the hosts were alert to ward off initial danger. Five minutes into the game, Malaysia won their first PC but Krishan B Pathak guarding India’s post did brilliantly to save. The following minutes saw accelerating play by both teams, playing on-par with each other and ended the quarter in a stalemate.

India adapted to full-press, putting their best defence on display. Vice Skipper Surender Kumar continued to remain the main-man for India in the backline, supported by the experienced Birendra Lakra, making important connections that helped the forwardline surge into the striking circle. Lakra was eventually declared player of the match.

Varun’s pass into the top of the circle saw Hardik Singh work in tandem with Mandeep Singh to set up a shot on goal. It was eventually Sumit who got the right deflection helping India take an important 1-0 lead in the 17th minute. Later, Mandeep helped India win their first PC but after several re-takes India could not extend their lead.

Soon after, Malaysia rallying on a good counter attack won their second PC of the match. Though their first attempt was well-saved by PR Sreejesh, who replaced Krishan after the first quarter, Rahim did not disappoint his home crowd as he struck low to give Malaysia an equaliser in the 21st minute.

The match remained tensed, India continued to use full-press as they looked for potential counter attack. A good tackle by Sumit to dispossess Malaysia’s Faizal Saari set-up India’s second goal. This time it was Sumit Kumar Jr who put the ball past Malaysia goalkeeper Hairi Rahman in the 27th minute.

The third quarter was intense with both teams rallying on counter attacks but India remained determined. They challenged the Malaysian defence with solid circle entries, Mandeep worked his magic yet again winning India another important PC. Taken by dragflicker Varun Kumar, he scored on a re-take with a powerful flick, keeping the ball low to the left. The 3-1 lead put pressure on the hosts.

Though Malaysia had made numerous attempts on goal in the third quarter, including a PC, an alert Krishan who had come back to the post did well to keep India’s lead. The fourth quarter, though saw Malaysia score a field goal through Firhan Ashari in the 57th minute who did well to beat Sreejesh at post after he had made two great saves earlier in the quarter. In the 58th minute, a brilliant circle entry and assist by Sumit Kumar to Mandeep helped him score India’s fourth goal ending the match on 4-2.

India now have seven points and go joint-top of the table after three matches, along with South Korea. The latter was given a scare by the 21st ranked Poland before grinding out a 3-2 win in their third match and are currently ahead of India on goal difference. Malaysia slip to third and stay on six points.

On 27 March, India will take on Canada at 15.35 hours IST.