India produced a spirited performance to beat Korea 4-1 in the penalty shoot-out after both the teams were locked at 2-2 at regulation time, to finish a creditable third in the 24th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, in Ipoh on Sunday.
The win is sure to act as a morale booster for the Indian team, which is witnessing a transition phase after new chief coach Paul van Ass took over from Terry Walsh barely a month ago.
The third place finish also marks a relatively good beginning for Van Ass, who was in his maiden assignment with the Indian team.
For India, who had earlier drawn 1-1 with Korea in the league stages, the victory came on the back of a stunning 4-2 win over world champions and title holders Australia on Saturday at the Azlan Shah Stadium.
India scored both their goals though field strikes from last match’s hat-trick man Nikkin Thimmaiah (10th minute) and Satbir Singh (22nd), while Korea scored from penalty corners converted by You Hyosik (20th) and Nam Hyunwoo (29th).
India’s vice-captain and goalkeeper P R Sreejesh had a fantastic day under the bar as he not only made numerous saves in the entire 60 minutes, but also turned out to be India’s hero in the shoot-out, denying two Korean efforts to help his side register the much-needed victory.
The only blemish for India on Sunday was penalty corners. The Sardar Singh-led side failed to secure a single set piece but their backline as usual crumbled under pressure and gave away seven short corners.
Both the teams were slow to get off the block and were sloppy in the initial few minutes.
It was India who had the first shy at the goal in the sixth minute but Akashdeep Singh shot wide after a scramble inside the circle.
Three minutes later, Korea secured their first penalty corner but Nam Hyunwoo’s effort couldn’t get past the defence of an agile Indian goalkeeper, Sreejesh.
The Indians took the lead in the next minute through last match’s hero Nikkin. Dharamvir Singh started the move and passed the ball to SK Uthappa, who beat a few Malaysian defenders to enter the circle from the right flank and then neatly pushed the ball towards Nikkin and he made no mistake in slapping the ball home from close range.
After a relatively sedate start, the Indians started to get into the groove as time passed by.
Five minutes into the second quarter Korea got their second penalty corner and You Hyosik scored from a rebound with a reverse shot after Jang Jonghyun’s dragflick was well saved by Sreejesh.
India restored their lead two minutes later through Satbir’s fine field effort. After stealing the ball at the midline, Satbir played a delightful one two with Dharmvir Singh before tapping in the ball pass Korean keeper Hong Doo Pyo.
But an unnecessary foul by Ramandeep Singh reduced India to 10-man in the last two minutes of the second quarter and that cost them dearly.
With India one man short, the Koreans piled on the pressure and managed to earn three penalty corners in succession, the last of which was converted by Hyunwoo with a powerful flick that beat Sreejesh all ends up as both the teams went into halfway break locked a 2-2.
After the change of ends, Korea had the first shot at the goal but Hyosik’s reverse hit sailed over the bar.
Then Satbir was denied in the 39th minute when his reverse hit was blocked by the Korean goalkeeper.
Korea went on the offensive in the fourth and final quarter and earned two more penalty corners but India custodian Sreejesh was up to the task.
In the 50th minute, Satbir once again came close to ensuring the lead for his side but his gentle touch from Birendra Lakra’s cross was well anticipated by the Korean goalkeeper.
It was nerve-wrecking final three minutes as Korea went all out in search of the winner, but the Indian defence did enough to hold the rampaging Koreans and take the match into shoot-out.
In the shoot-out, the Indians were clinical as Akashdeep Singh, skipper Sardar Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra converted their tries with consummate ease. But credit should go to Sreejesh as he pulled off twobrilliant saves to deny Kim Kihoon and Kim Juhun, and secure the third place finish for India.