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India in Azlan Shah Cup semis
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May 09, 2007 19:15 IST
Last Updated: May 09, 2007 20:00 IST

India came up with a solid second half performance to beat Argentina 2-0 in their concluding league match and enter the semi-finals of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Wednesday.

Both the goals came at the fag end of the match, through Bharat Chikkara (66th minute) and Tushar Khandekar (69th).

It was India's second successive victory in the league stage, having beaten China 5-4 in the previous match after a 0-1 loss to Australia.

In Friday's semi-finals, India will meet Malaysia while Australia take on Korea.

The Indian victory resulted in a three-way tie, as Australia, India and Argentina all garnered six points apiece. However, Argentina were eliminated because of an inferior goal difference. Australia took the top spot in the group ahead of India.

Olympic champions Australia had earlier thrashed China 7-2.

Leading the Australian goal-glut was Grant Schubert, playing his 100th international, with a tally of three (38th, 50th, 63rd) while Russell Ford chipped in with two (17th, 46th). Rounding off their scoring were Matthew Naylor (20th) and Brent Livermore (penalty stroke, 25th).

For China, Lee Zhi Meng (43rd) and Yi Song (70th) were the scorers.

Asian champions Korea swept to a 4-2 victory against Pakistan and joined hosts Malaysia from their group in the semi-finals.

Korea completed their Group B league engagements with six points and finished second behind Malaysia (7).

Pakistan, bronze medallists at the 2006 Asian Games, were placed third with four points, while winless Canada came in last.

Wednesday's match was a continuation of Monday's tie that was abandoned after 27 minutes of the first-half following a power failure. The teams were tied 2-2 when play was halted.

Deserving win for India

There was fluency and rhythm in India's moves that purred like a well-oiled machine. However, the final passing bouts and positional play of the forwards left a lot to be desired.

Argentina, requiring just a draw to make it to the semi-finals, preferred to fall back on the ropes, as it were, and absorb the punches like a heavyweight boxer. They did it with aplomb and a measure of confidence that, ironically, the Indian defenders did not show on the rare occasions they were under pressure.

Consequentially, it was Argentina who forced two penalty-corners, both against the run of play, while the Indians drew a blank despite repeatedly penetrating the striking circle.

It was to India's good fortune that Pedro's drag-flick from Argentina's second penalty-corner struck the upright. Off the counter-attack that flowed, Sardara Singh put Roshan Minz in possession, but Minz drove wide to the second angle and wasted India's best scoring chance.

Coach Joaquim Carvalho switched players in an attempt to sustain the tempo. To an extent, the substitutions ensured that there were always fresh legs upfront, but then, with Argentina defending in numbers, the Indian forwards found themselves in a maze that took them around in circles and nowhere near the target.

The early minutes of the second-half saw Argentina showing rare urgency, but soon the game fell into a familiar pattern, with the Indians dominating. Twice in the first 10 minutes the Indians nearly scored. Chikkara failed to deflect a Saradara free-hit and then Minz, after dodging past the goalkeeper, saw his hit looping over the goal cage off a defender's stick.

Almost immediately, the Indians forced their first penalty-corner, but their specialist drag-flicker, Ramachandra Raghunath, was on the bench and Harpal Singh's tentative direct hit was ineffective, easily being stopped by the rival keeper.

Raghunath was soon brought on, but he left within minutes after a yellow card suspension, his second in as many matches, for bringing down an Argentine player.

As the clock ticked towards full-time, India grew in desperation, as the well-organised Argentine defence that had read the Indian game rather too well gave nothing away.

To India's credit, they kept chipping away at the Argentine wall and finally blew a hole in it in the 67th minute, when Minz broke through from the right, passed to Tushar Khandekar, whose square pass across the goalmouth was neatly swept in by Chikkara.

The Indians then stepped on the throttle and, with about a minute left, scored their second goal when Khandekar beat the advancing goalkeeper after receiving a pass from Minz.

Thursday's fixtures (IST):

5-8 classification: Argentina vs Canada (3.35 pm); Pakistan vs China (5.35 pm).

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