That India are the best team in Asia is a well-established fact for quite some time. A few aberrations apart, India have dominated the region for a major part of the last five years and on Sunday, they further reinforced this point.
India defeated Malaysia 2-1 in Dhaka on Sunday to clinch the Asia Cup for the first time since 2007. And in doing so, the country now has the unique record of holding all continental titles simultaneously. Aside from the Asia Cup, India have maintained their domination at all levels by winning the Asian Games, Asian Champions Trophy and under-18 Asia Cup winners.
India won the Asia Cup last time in 2007 in Chennai. Since then, they have entered the final on a couple of occasions but could not clinch the title. This time, though, they entered the tournament as overwhelming favourites and they justified it by remaining unbeaten throughout the campaign.
Malaysia have been the thorn in Indian flesh for quite some time, especially in big matches. But on Sunday, India made their intentions clear pretty early. Ramandeep Singh opened the scoring with a tap-in from a close range in the third minute and Lalit Upadhyay doubled India’s advantage in the 29th to put the team in a comfortable position going into the half-time break.
Malaysia, who were in summit clash for the first time since tournament’s inception, fought valiantly and didn’t give up for a single minute. Their efforts bore fruit in the 50th minute when Shahril Saabah pulled one goal back. The Indians, ranked sixth in the world, were in for nervous last 10 minutes but the defence did enough to hold on to the lead.
For India’ new chief coach Marijne Sjoerd, it was perfect start to his stint as the Asia Cup was his maiden tournament in charge of the senior national side. The top-ranked Indians finished unbeaten in the tournament, having won all their matches except for the 1-1 draw against Korea in th Super 4 stage.
Today’s win was India’s second victory over Malaysia in the tournament, having beaten them 6-2 in the Super-4 stage. For Malaysia, it was their best result in the tournament. They had earlier won the bronze in the 2007 edition of the event in Chennai. The Indians came out all guns blazing and took the lead as early as the third minute through Ramandeep, who scored from a rebound after his initial deflection from SV Sunil’s cross hit the post.
Chinglensana Singh’s reverse hit from close range then went wide as India wasted a golden chance. It was a battle fought on even keel between the two teams as Malaysia secured their first penalty corner in the 13th minute but wasted it.
Harmanpreet Singh was then denied by Razie Rahim as he made a goalline save to keep out the Indian defender’s flick from India’s first penalty corner. Minutes later Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam made double save — first kept out Akashdeep Sinh’s shot and then denied Amit Rohidas from the resultant set piece.
A minute before the half time, Lalit doubled India’s lead when he beautifully deflected home Sumit’s reverse hit cross from the left flank.
After the change of ends, Lalit and Ramandeep came tantalisingly close to extending India’s tally of goals but their shots from inside the D were off target. Down by two goals, the Malaysians came out all guns blazing in the fourth and final quarter in search of the equaliser and gave the Indian defence a run for their money.
After wasting their second penalty corner, Malaysia came back into the match when Saabah scored from close range in the 50th minute as the Young Indian defence wilted under pressure for a second. It was nervous last 10 minutes for the Indians as Malaysia mounted attack after attack in search of an equaliser.
In the form of their third penalty corner, Malaysia had a golden opportunity to take the match into shoot-out but the Indian defence stood tall to maintain their slender lead. With three minutes from the hooter, Malaysia withdrew goalkeeper Subramaniam for an extra player but the move failed to yield desired result as the Indians managed to hold on to their lead for a famous victory.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan won the bronze medal after edging out Korea 6-3 in the third-fourth place play-off match.
(With inputs from PTI)