Defending champion India has set up a summit clash with arch rival and neighbour Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat on Sunday. While India edged out fighting Asian games champion Japan 3-2 in the second semi-final, Pakistan beat Asian Games silver medalist Malaysia 3-1 in penalty shootout after two teams played 4-4 draw in the first semi-final.
It may be a mere coincidence that the Asian Games finalists – Japan and Malaysia – both lost their respective semi-final games. Also, both Japan and Malaysia have not beaten India and Pakistan in at least three games. India has won all three games against Japan since they met in Asian games and Pakistan have beaten Malaysia in all four games since Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.
India’s win in the second semi-final came after a stiff fight as the Japanese after humiliating 0-9 defeat in an earlier pool game not only put up sonic defence but also made deep inroads into Indian defence making it vulnerable more than once.
India may have enjoyed territorial advantage, more ball possession besides getting more looks at Japanese goal but the Asian Games champion proved that it was no mere push over as the scores of the last two games, including the pool game in Asian games, may have suggested.
After Gurjant gave India lead with a goal in the 19th minute, Japanese storied back and restored parity from the first penalty corner it earned in the 22nd minute. Hirataka Nakuri glided ball home from the penalty corner flick.
India forced two penalty corners in the first half but failed to utilise any.
It was only in the 43rd minute wfrom the fourth penalty corner taken by Varun Kumar that Chinglesana, who otherwise a loose bolt in the Indian feeding machine, made amends for his poor performance by deflecting the ball into the net.
Five minutes from the final whistle young Dilpreet Singh scored a brilliant goal to make it little safe for India but not before Japan shot back again, this time trough Hirotaka Zandana.
India managed to hung on to the slender goal lead through last four minutes to make it to the gold medal match.
Earlier, Korea also had a tough time in defeating the hosts Oman 3-1 in the match to decide fifth and sixth positions.
Pakistan was lucky to survive the late second half Malaysian blitzkrieg to make the final. After taking a comfortable 4-1 lead by the 20th minute in the second quarter, it could not withstand the onslaught of the Malaysians, conceding three goals in the last 17 minutes to end the game at 4-all.
In the shootout, Pakistani players held the nerve to score three while Malaysia could manage only one. For Roeland Oltmans, the new national coach of Malaysia, the outcome was a big disappointment after his team’s excellent performance in the second half of the regulation period. Incidentally, it was second successive defeat for Malaysia at hands of Pakistan in the last two games.