Akashdeep Singh scored two goals in the space of three minutes to set up India’s 3-2 victory over Malaysia in the men’s hockey World Cup in The Hague on Saturday.
Jasjit Singh Kular opened the scoring for India in the 13th minute but Malaysia equalised in the 45th with a penalty corner conversion by Mohammad Razie before Akashdeep got into the goal-scoring act, which helped his team post its first win of the tournament.
Akashdeep first applied the finishing touch to Rupinder Pal Singh fine run on a counter-attack by deflecting in a diagonal cross into the boards in the 49th minute. Two minutes later, he picked up a pass from captain Sardar Singh inside the circle and slammed the ball past the desperate goalkeeper.
Malaysia reduced the lead in the 61st minute when Marhan Jalil fired in on a rebound from Indian goalkeeper P R Sreejesh on a breakaway move.
India wasted several scoring opportunities, but also had to depend on their defenders to keep out the dangerous Malaysian raids in the closing stages.
India first got into the Malaysian circle in the eighth minute when Rupinder moved up and sent the ball from top of the circle toward Mandeep Singh, but a defender had no difficulty in clearing it.
Malaysia forced their first penalty corner in the next minute following a raid down the left flank, but Razie’s shot posed no threat as it was padded away by custodian Sreejesh.
India started sustained attack thereafter and went into the lead by opening the scoring in the 13th minute following their first penalty corner, where the ball was not stopped.
But S K Uthapppa, positioned behind V R Raghunath, sustained the attack by sending a diagonal ball to Kular, who picked up the pass on top of the circle and sounded the boards by beating goalkeeper Subramiam Kumar with a deft shot.
Enjoying the run of play, India had a number of other scoring chances, but did not convert them into goals and went into half-time with a 1-0 lead.
Malaysia drew level with India on a penalty corner conversion by Razie 10 minutes into the second session when the shot was blocked, but the ball rolled off the goalkeeper’s body and over the goal-line.
Akashdeep’s first goal came following a Malaysian penalty corner, when the ball was snatched by Rupinder and he charged up to rattle the Malaysian defence and sent in the diagonal cross that was deflected in by Akashdeep in the 49th minute.
Sardar created the third Indian goal two minutes later as he ran down the centre and sent in a through ball which Akashdeep capitalised again.
India created several openings, but the strikers were wayward in their marksmanship, while Malaysia capitalised on a chance to reduce the lead through Jalil amid some confusion in the Indian defence.
The defenders raised their game to keep the Malaysian strikers at bay in the closing stages, even as Indian forwards messed up a couple of more scoring chances.
The victory gives India four points from as many matches in Group A, and ensures that it would not face the ignominy of being the bottom-placed team in the pool. Irrespective of the result of India’s last group match – against defending World champions Australia – they will finish either in the fourth or fifth spot.
A combination of results in the last league outings for India, Spain and Malaysia would have bearing on the final group standings.
Spain will play Malaysia in their last league outing.
Malaysia have lost all four matches, while Spain have two draws from four games. A victory for Malaysia could pave the way for India to finish fourth in the group and play the playoff for the seventh and eighth spots.
Spain were on Saturday handed down a 5-2 drubbing by Belgium, who are back in contention for a semifinal place, along with Australia and England.