Conceding last minute goals have continued to haunt India for long now and that’s precisely what the team would look to avoid when it take on its ‘new-found’ nemesis Malaysia in its third league match of the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament Tuesday. After a not-so-convincing 2-0 win over Asian Games gold medallist Japan in the tournament opener, Manpreet Singh and his men conceded a goal in the final minute of the match to draw 1-1 against Korea on Sunday.
India are currently placed third in the six-team standings with four points after a win and a draw. Hosts Malaysia are leading the chart with maximum points after 5-1 and 4-3 wins over Poland and Japan respectively. Korea are in the second position with four points, same as India, but they are ahead of the eight-time Olympic gold medallists owing to better goal difference.
On Sunday, India were well on course to register their second consecutive win in the tournament after taking the lead in the 28th minute through Mandeep Singh. But a defensive error, just 22 seconds from the final hooter, enabled Jonghyun Jang to score the equaliser from a penalty corner.
And come Tuesday, the Indians can ill afford to repeat similar mistakes, especially against a side like Malaysia, which, in the recent past, have time and again exploited such grey areas to continue to remain a thorn in the flesh for the Blue Sticks.
Considered as the dark-horses of Asian hockey for long, Malaysia have time and again showed their capabilities by upsetting the big teams, at least at the continental level, when it mattered.
It all started way back in 2010 when Malaysia stunned India 4-3 with a last-minute goal at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games semifinals.
Eight years later the Malaysians again inflicted yet another agony on the Indians. This time too India conceded a last minute goal in the semifinals of the Jakarta Asian Games to enable their rivals to draw level and eventually win the encounter 7-6 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
In former India coach and High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans, Malaysia has a shrewd tactician who knows in and out of the Indian hockey.
Penalty corner specialist Muhammad Razie Rahim is a name which the Indian team would be wary of as it is this 31-year-old who flattened India on more than one occasion, including in the Asian Games semifinal in Jakarta.
Even though Rahim has scored just once in the tournament so far, the Indian defence led by Birendra Lakra and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, need to be extremely cautious come Tuesday.
Besides, the Indian defence will also have to keep at bay ‘Saari brothers’ — Fitri and Faizal — especially the latter who has already scored a hat-trick and is currently the leading scorer in the competition with five goals.
But the Indians can take heart from the fact that it is the same Malaysian side which they have thrashed 5-1 at the same venue in the last edition of the tournament in 2018.
All said and done, the Indians would definitely be eyeing a big win against the Malaysians on Tuesday, which would not only bolster their morale but lift them in the points table.
Meanwhile in other matches of the day, Japan will play Canada while South Africa will be up against Korea.