Listless India managed to scrape through to a 2-1 win over Malaysia and seal a semi-final berth from Pool B in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, on Tuesday.
Penalty corner specialist Harmanpreet Singh (3rd, 44th) scored both the goals for the Indians while Faizal Saari (16th) was on target for the Malaysians.
The win took India’s points tally to seven from three matches and sealed their semi-final berth as both Malaysia and Pakistan have three points from as many outings and cannot overhaul India in the final round.
The Manpreet Singh-led side will now need just a draw against England to top the group.
Not convincing enough
The Indians had been below-par in their opening two matches despite managing to grab four points with a win over Wales following a draw against arch-rivals Pakistan and coach Sjoerd Marijne would have hoped that the boys would hit the ground running after a day’s break.
The hopes were further raised when a darting run from the left by Mandeep Singh saw India earn a penalty corner in the 3rd minute and Harmanpreet Singh made no mistake with the conversion.
But that was probably the only high point of the entire first half as Malaysia managed to close down the supply to the Indian strikers with a strong man-to-man marking and had a grand total of just four shots at Malaysian goal, including two penalty corners, and just one was on target.
Only SV Sunil looked good enough to break that stranglehold and it was his run down the right that created India’s other best chance of the half. The 28-year-old moved in from the right before passing the ball ahead to Mandeep Singh and cutting across inside the striking circle. However, the return pass was a bit too quick for him to reach.
It did not help that Harmanpreet wasn’t on the field when India earned their second penalty corner of the first half and Varun Kumar shot the ball wide.
Malaysia were no better in terms of penetration but they had a clear game plan of sitting back and hitting on the counter. And they made the most of the opportunity when it mattered as Faizal Saari successfully sold a dummy to goalkeeper PR Sreejesh while collecting a forward pass and then slotted home from a sharp angle in the 16th minute.
Harmanpreet saves the day
There was not much difference in the approach of the two teams after the break and though Malaysia managed a few more attacks on the Indian goal, they hardly troubled Sreejesh.
It was the same story for India as their only shot at goal coming from yet another penalty corner when Harmanpreet Singh converting following a slew of penalty corners in the 44th minute that proved enough to hand the team three full points.
Apart from the penalty corners, the only other scoring opportunity for the Indians in the final quarter came from a fine forward pass from skipper Manpreet Singh but Mandeep Singh could not beat Malaysian goalkeeper Hairi Rahman from close range.