Hosts Malaysia recovered from a two-goal deficit to beat a spirited Japan 4-2 while Pakistan mauled debutants Chinese Taipei 13-0 in final round matches of Pool A at the ninth Asia Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Tuesday.
By virtue of this win, Malaysia became the second team to qualify for the semi-finals from Pool A. Pakistan had already sealed their place in the last-four stage ahead of Tuesday’s inconsequential encounter.
With three wins from as many matches, Pakistan have topped Pool A with nine points, while Malaysia finished second with six.
In all likelihood, Pakistan will take on defending champions South Korea in the first semi-final on Friday, while Malaysia will face India in the other last-four match.
India are presently at the top of Pool B with two wins from as many games, while Korea are in the second place. The Indians play minnows Bangladesh in their final pool match on Wednesday, while Korea will be up against debutantes Oman.
With both the teams in the fray for a semi-final berth, the second match of the day between Malaysia and Japan was expected to be an exciting encounter. It turned out to be one.
Malaysia were in for a rude shock early in the match as Japan were the first to seize the initiative when Toshiro Tachibana scored from their first penalty corner in the sixth minute, much to the disappointment of the home spectators gathered at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium.
Japan stunned Malaysia again two minutes later through a field goal from Kei Kawakami to quickly surge to a 2-0 lead.
But the Malaysians did not give up and worked relentlessly to claw their way back into the match.
Malaysia put the Japanese defence under continuous pressure and earned seven penalty corners, out of which five came in the first half. But their execution rate was poor.
Credit should also go to the Japanese defence and goalkeeper Akira Morishima who made some good saves.
The home side managed to reduce the margin in the 14th minute through a perfect penalty corner conversion by Muhammad Razie Abd Rahim.
Malaysia drew parity in the 28th minute through a field goal from Muhammad Firhan Ashaari to go into the breather locked at 2-2.
The Malaysians, however, came out all charged up after the breather and put pressure on the Japanese defence with persistent attacks.
But goals eluded them till the 60th minute when Faizal Saari converted another short corner to perfection before Azlan Misron took the match out of Japan's grasp, striking six minutes later with a field effort.
Meanwhile, in the opening match of the day, the Pakistanis toyed with Chinese Taipei’s defence, especially in the second half, and scored goals to notch up a thumping win.
For the winners, Abdul Hassem Khan (54th minute, 56th, 69th) scored three goals, captain Muhammad Imran (23rd, 53rd), Muhammad Rizwan (26th, 38th), Shafqat Rasool (39th, 47th) sounded the board twice each while veteran Shakeel Abbasi (13th), Muhammad Dilber (45th), Muhammad Tousiq (60th) and Muhammad Irfan (67th) scored one apiece.
Chinese Taipei turned out to be a complete mismatch for the formidable Pakistanis who, after a relatively quiet first half, stepped on the gas to entertain the sparse crowd with a goal-fest.
Coming out of the break with a comfortable 3-0 lead, the Pakistanis looked menacing in the second period and pumped in as many as 10 goals to lift their spirits ahead of the crucial semi-final tie.
The Pakistanis earned as many as 11 penalty corners in the match, out of which they utilised just four.