IPOH: Just after Great Britain finished their match, Tournament Director Josh Burt met their coach Bobby Crutchley to explain the permutation. It was simple enough. “If India beat Malaysia 2-1,” he told the GB boss. “You boys would be playing India in a shootout to decide who goes to the final.”
The England side and the organisers need not have worried. India never looked in danger of getting anywhere near scoring. If anything, it looked like they were going out of their way to avoid scoring at all costs. And the 0-1 defeat to the hosts who picked up their first win of the tournament was not surprising.
One moment best symbolised a strangely listless display from the Indians. In the 53rd minute, Rupinder Pal Singh was free on the right. With four Indian players waiting inside the striking circle, even a decent cross would have troubled the Malaysian defence. However, he hurried the pass and it went straight out.
What was more baffling was India’s inability to find the target against opponents who have conceded a truckload of goals to the same opposition in the last 12 months. Six at the Azlan Shah, four goals twice in a four-nation invitational tournament in Australia and two in an Asian Champions Trophy group game.
The penetration was lacking — just one shot on target in the entire match — tells its own story. But they did have other chances to score. Five penalty corners — one of India’s strongest attacking threats — were wasted, including two in the last four minutes. Both forwards and midfielders had functioned well in the tournament. On Friday, they put in their worst display. Passes were overcooked and first touches usually resulted in interceptions.
Roelant Oltmans was understandably downcast. “I’m never disappointed by the result, but disappointed by our non-performance, as the former comes from the latter,” he said. “We didn’t play well, conceded too many unforced errors and did not take our chances in the first three-quarters.” India will now play New Zealand in the 3rd/4th play-off.
Malaysia had a fixed game plan and that helped them, according to coach Stephen van Huizen. “There was no question of us trying to deny our Asian neighbours a spot in the final or anything like that,” he said. “We played for pride and wanted to win. There was nothing else. We wanted to be compact at the back and not allow Indian forwards any space as they are good to score from any position.
“We looked at tapes and worked on that. We also defended penalty corners very effectively and that helped us win,” he smiled.
Japan stun Oz
Japan stunned world champs Australia 3-2 to record one of their most significant wins. What made it even more remarkable was they were trailing 0-2. GB, who eked past the Kiwis 3-2, made their first final in 23 years.