Asiad hockey: Malaysia ousts India with penalty shootout win

S. V. Sunil missed his penalty in sudden death to send Malaysia through to the final.

A brief glimpse into the Indian men’s hockey team’s changing room revealed 18 stony statues staring into nowhere. They had managed to trudge back after a long walk from the turf where, 60 minutes and 19 shots later, the defending champion had collapsed to a 9-8 defeat to Malaysia in the semifinals and ended their golden and Olympic hopes on Thursday.

As it happened

Tied 2-2 at the end of regulation time, it was sudden death to end India’s dreams. Malaysia managed to convert seven of its 10 attempts while India could only manage six, Manpreet Singh’s first shot ruled invalid for obstruction.

In terms of India’s campaign at the 18th Asian Games, the loss would be at par with the disappointments in kabaddi. In terms of its repercussions, it would be a bigger disaster — the loss took away an Olympic ticket with the road ahead now a bumpy, uncertain one.

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Having started favourite for the title and swept through the league stage barring a scare against Korea, India began with the right momentum. There was pace, structure, clear shots at the goal and a penalty corner. It soon petered out and along with it, sharing more than 1000 games between them, the Indians lost their minds too. Coach Harendra Singh kept screaming from the sidelines to hold and control; the players had gone deaf.

He kept telling them to not get holed into pockets, they ended up doing exactly that. He kept screaming not to tackle inside the Indian circle, they couldn’t care less. He begged them to slow the game and stay patient, they kept flinging the ball away. The hurry led to turnovers, frustration and more mistakes. The ones with most experience struggled the maximum.

India would end up with seven more penalty corners, converting two. But Malaysia always stayed in the game, threatening equalisers. The one barrier was P.R. Sreejesh, who bought off half a dozen saves.

At the other end, Malaysia had veteran Kumar Subramanium to thank for giving it a chance. The two goalkeepers stepped up to the challenge in shoot-outs as well but Malaysia managed its shooters better.

“We made a lot of basic errors in trapping and passing and got punished for them. You cannot do them at this level and Malaysia is never easy. And yes I have to admit today that penalty corners are an area of concern, otherwise we should have ended the game through them only. I thought we had it sorted but now we will have to look at it again,” a downcast Harendra said.

Both Malaysia’s goals came against the run of play. The first was soon after India’s seventh penalty corner was saved and a counter saw the Indian defence missing. The second 1.30 minutes away from time, a penalty corner that raced below Sreejesh’s leg. In the end, it took a leap of faith from Kumar to deny Sunil, and India.

Bronze match against Pakistan

India will now play Pakistan for bronze, which lost 1-0 to Japan in the other semifinal, a consolation prize for all its dominance but a medal match nevertheless. Whether the Indians manage to get over this defeat in time for the next game is anybody’s guess, though.

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