It is abundantly clear that the top spot in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament will be contested by Oceania rivals Australia and New Zealand. Both teams have convincingly won all three of their matches and there is no way they can be challenged by any other team at this stage. In the matches played on Wednesday, world no.1 Australia defeated South Korea 5-2 while world no.7 New Zealand had no trouble in thwarting the Canadian challenge 5-0. India turned in yet another disappointing show despite high hopes from their fans and crashed out 2-3 against hosts Malaysia. That put paid to any chances and a possible back-door sneak they might have aspired at the start of that crucial third match. With one match with the mighty Australians and another on Thursday against Canada, all that India can do is to prevent the ignominy of the bottom finish in the 6-nation tournament at Malaysia.
In a match delayed by rain, Malaysia edged out India 3-2 and notched up their first win in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament. For the third consecutive match, India suffered on account of their sloppy defending and missed several goal-scoring chances. India’s team had surprising looked good at times in all their matches, when seen in terms of combining well and taking the battle into their opponents’ halves. But they wilted at crucial junctures and their fragile back-line became their undoing time and time again. Just as they conceded the crucial last minute goal to New Zealand, the Indians dubiously repeated the act of also allowing the Malaysians to come up with the victory goal with two minutes left. That goal put the exit stamp for India from the title contention in the prestigious tournament at Ipoh.
After the goalless first quarter, Malaysia earned a penalty corner within two minutes of the start of the second quarter. Faizal Saari converted the PC for Malaysia but within the next three minutes, India leveled the score, when Rupinder Pal Singh also converted a penalty corner for India. The teams went out of the field for halftime with scores level at 1-1. When they came became, the hosts went into the attacking mode and broke India’s defenses. Cheered on by 5,000 people, the Malaysian took the 2-1 lead through Muhammad Haziq Samsul, who sounded the board in the 35th minute. India went into an overdrive after this setback and forced 4 PCs one after another in quick succession. It was here that they lost their chances despite converting the fourth, when Rupinder again found the target. In a game that has acquired amazing speed in recent times; penalty-corner conversions hold the key for most teams. Missing three corners is unpardonable at least against a team such as Malaysia. In any case, India played at level terms from the 51st minute onwards. But instead of mounting attack on the Malaysian goal, India yielded to pressure in the 58th minute, when Mohd Shahrun Nabil Abdullah dashed India’s hopes with a field goal. With a solitary point from three matches, the India Hockey Story makes for a dismal reading at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament.
In their match against Korea, Australia’s most capped player Jamie Dwyer continued his brilliant form by scoring the first hat-trick of the tournament. He scored in the 18th, 45th and 48th minutes and took his tally to six in three matches. But the Koreans had an upper hand earlier after the goalless first quarter, when Kim Eong-kyu scored for them in the 17th minute from a penalty corner. But Dwyer was quick in nullifying the lead in the very next minute from a brilliant field goal. In the 22nd minute, captain Mark Knowles’ goal from the penalty spot saw Australia take the 2-1, which became 3-1 in the next minute after Eddie Ockenden scored his 60th goal for the Kookaburras. Just as the third quarter was coming to an end, Dwyer scored again from the penalty corner. In the 48th minute, Dwyer came up with another field goal to notch up his hat-trick and hoisted Australia to a 5-1 unassailable lead. However, Korea pulled one back from a penalty corner conversion by Jonghyun Jang in the 54th minute as Australia finished with a 5-2 victory in the end.
In an earlier match, New Zealand easily defeated Canada 5-0 to record their third win in three matches. The Canadians didn’t allow the Kiwis any control in the first quarter and for the most part of the second quarter but in 26th minute; New Zealand went ahead when Blair Hilton scored a field goal. The Black Sticks got their second goal in the 41st minute, when Hugo Inglis successfully converted from a penalty corner. Four minutes later Inglis added another goal to take New Zealand’s tally to 3-0 and when Simon Child and Shay Neal added two more goals, New Zealand finished their 5-0 rout of the lowest ranked team in the tournament.