When India lost their fifth round-robin league game against New Zealand on Wednesday, they needlessly slid into hot waters before their last game against hosts Malaysia. With Malaysia recording a 1-0 win over Pakistan, the match between India and Malaysia on Friday became a do-or-die battle. Nothing less than an outright win for India was acceptable, if they needed to earn the right to play against the formidable Australia in the final. But the Indians achieved their objective in style and defeated Malaysia comprehensively with a 6-1 margin. With 12 points in 6 matches, India occupied the second spot in the league table and on Saturday, they will square up with Australia for the championship trophy.
India’s progress in the 25th edition of Azlan Shah Cup wasn’t very inspiring until they came face-to-face with arch rivals Pakistan on Tuesday April 12, 2016. Both India and Pakistan had lost their league games against Australia by a 4-goal margin; India lost 1-5 and Pakistan 0-4 against the world champions. India had begun by taking an early 1-0 lead but Pakistan drew level soon and showed their intent as they raided the Indian half. But India regrouped themselves and changed the course of the match by scoring the next four goals to win by 5-1. Four of India’s goals against Pakistan had come from field action and that showed their superiority. On Wednesday, however, India suffered a setback in losing to defending champions New Zealand 1-2. It was a hard-fought battle that gave both India and New Zealand chances to enter the final depending on the result of the last league games.
On Friday, India prevailed over Malaysia in scoring a 6-1 victory and ensured that they reach the final and play against Australia for the 2016 Azlan Shah Trophy. The match had acquired the color of a semifinal game and anyone winning would have marched into the final. India played stunningly from the start and drew the first blood from a brilliant move in third minute by Mandeep Singh. Mandeep sent a good cross and Chandanda Thimmiah was on the right spot at the far post and he made no mistake in deflecting the ball into the goal. Barely four minutes later, an agile Harjeet Singh ran hard from mid-pitch and tore through the Malaysian defense before sounding the board to make it 2-0 for India. The hosts were stunned by two early goals and tried to cut down on the margin. But the buoyed Indians would not lose their grip on the game and led 3-0 in the 25th minute, when Ramandeep Singh converted a penalty corner. In the 27th minute India led 4-0 from an opportunistic goal by Danish Mujtaba, who was alert on the rebound, when Hermanpreet’s penalty corner hit the post. After leading 4-0 at halftime, a relentless India made it 5-0 in 39th minute from another goal by Ramandeep. Seven minutes later, Malaysia found some consolation, when Shahril Saabah reduced the deficit to 5-1. But there was no respite for Malaysia as India continued to mount the raids on Malaysian goal and the 50th minute saw India taking an unassailable 6-1 lead from Talwinder Singh’s goal.
On Saturday 5-time tournament winner India take on the mighty Australians, who have won all their league matches to collect the maximum of 18 points. World champions Australia have also won the Azlan Shah Cup 8 times and in their current devastating form, they are the favorites to win the trophy for the 9th time. However, the quality of play on the last day will dictate the course of the match and although Australia have an edge, Indians are capable of springing a surprise. On the same day, New Zealand and Malaysia will play for the bronze medal and Canada and Pakistan will fight for 5th place. The only other team, Japan have lost all it matches and lie at the bottom of the table already.