A scrappy India eked out a hard-fought 2-0 win over lower-ranked China to progress to the semi-finals of the men’s hockey competition at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon on Saturday.
After a goalless opening 30 minutes, drag-flick exponent V R Raghunath (40th minute) and Birendra Lakra (45th) scored two goals in quick succession to give India a 2-0 lead at the end of the third quarter.
But the ninth-ranked Indians were far from impressive as their forwardline failed to break the defence of the 27th ranked Chinese despite enjoying the lions share of possession in the match.
Needing at least a draw to progress to the knock-out stage after the close 1-2 defeat against arch-rivals Pakistan, the Indians were slow to get off the blocks.
There was hardly anything to differentiate between the two sides in the first quarter as both the teams wasted the far and few chances that came their way.
It was India who earned the first penalty corner of the match in the 29th minute of the match but they wasted the chance going for a variation even as drag-flicker Raghunath was off the pitch.
The Indians were hurt badly by the absence of their second drag-flicker Rupinderpal Singh, who continued to warm the bench for the second consecutive match due to an injury sustained against Oman.
Raghunath’s lacklustre performance continued as he managed to utilise just one of the five penalty corners that came their way.
After the change of ends, the Indians came out with more purpose and unleashed an array of attacks on the Chinese goal which resulted in their second penalty corner.
And this time Raghunath was bang on target with a powerful low flick to the right of Chinese goalkeeper Rui Xu to give India a 1-0 lead 10 minutes into the third quarter.
Five minutes later, India doubled their lead when Lakra scored with a fine field effort after a fine one-two with Akashdeep Singh.
India continued their attacking play and earned two back-to-back penalty corners at the start of the fourth and final quarter but Raghunath wasted both the opportunities.
China, on the other hand, were more reliant on counter attacks and on a few occasions looked threatening only to be denied by an alert Indian defense.
It took China at least 50 minutes to earn their first penalty corner of the match but Indian goalkeeper P R Sreejesh was upto the task to thwart any danger to his goal.
Thereafter, both India and China secured a penalty corner each only to see their efforts go in vain.
By virtue of this win, India booked their place in the semifinals as the second best team from Pool B where they play hosts Korea, while Pakistan will face Malaysia in the other last four match.