Hockey India vs MalaysiaHockey India vs MalaysiaPlaced on a high pedestal after crushing Pakistan 6-0 on Wednesday, India played another super game against hosts Malaysia on Thursday. The defending champions of the Johor Cup showed their mettle in scoring a 4-2 victory in their penultimate league game. Their next opponents are the formidable Australians and the outcome of that match is crucial since it could decide whether or not, India will be able to defend the title, they won in 2013. At the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium in Johor Bahru yesterday, India played a charged up game to lead 2-0 at halftime and though Malaysia leveled after the break, India’s junior players soon restored the advantage and won the match with flying colors.

After the goalless 25 minutes, India went ahead in the game, when Harmanpreet Singh converted a penalty corner. Soon afterwards, India doubled the lead through another penalty corner conversion. Once again, it was Hermanpreet, who made no mistake with the finish. The teams went into the break with a 2-0 lead.

After the break, the determined Malaysians reduced the deficit in style. In the 37th minute, Sufi Ismat Rohulmin decided to go solo at the Indian goal. He collected the ball just inside India’s half and went past two defenders and before the goalkeeper could get the support from anyone, Rohulmin struck a powerful reverse-stick drive into the goal to make it 2-1. This goal was like a life-tonic for the Malaysians as they attacked the Indian goal with a vengeance. The hosts leveled the score in the 42nd minute through another enterprising field goal. Azril Misron found himself at the perfect spot, when a delectable cross came to him from Norsyafiq Sumantri and Azril made no errors to level the score 2-2. The vociferous Johor Bahru crowd went berserk and they kept cheering the hosts at every small opportunity.

But after losing the early advantage so easily, India mounted fresh forays on the Malaysian goal. From a foul committed by a Malaysian player in his own box, India earned another penalty corner in the 55th minute. Once again, it was Hermanpreet, who converted his third penalty corner of the match to finish his hat-trick. The goal restored India’s lead as the score read 3-2. In the 65th minute, a serious obstruction to India in the Malaysian box resulted into a penalty stroke. Varun Kumar was not founding wanting with his superb strike and shortly afterwards, the match ended at 4-2 in India’s favor.

The match result came India’s way because of their deft handling of the pressure situation. Despite a phase of a glittering Malaysian performance later in the second half, India did not lose their hold in the game. Constant attack on the Malaysian goal and objectionable obstructions by Malaysian defenders resulted in the award of the penalty corner and also a penalty stroke. India kept their heads above their shoulders and walked away with two crucial goals, when it mattered maximum.

In their last league games, India and Australia will lock horns with one another on October 18. It will be a tough challenge because the Australians are known for their super brand of hockey. As for India, they have lost only one game against Great Britain and two back-to-back performances of high quality may weigh in India’s favor. Great Britain emerged as the first team to enter the final, when they thumped Australia 5-1 to record their fourth consecutive match in the tournament. Pakistan lost 2-3 against New Zealand and had a miserable outing in this Johor Cup. Based on the points’ tally, India are ahead of Australia and just need a draw against the Aussies. For Australia, it is must-win game against the Indians to enter the final. Therefore the upcoming match between India and Australia on October 18th is virtually a semifinal. No predictions are possible in modern-day hockey though India looks like making the grade for the third year in a row. But one never knows.