The Indian hockey team maintained its unbeaten run, fighting back from a goal down to hold Malaysia 2-2 in the Asian Champions Trophy [ Images ] in Ordos, China, on Wednesday.
However, India [ Images ], with eight points, is still not assured of a place in the final. They needed a win against Malaysia, which would have given them 10 points and made sure of a spot in the final.
Now, they have to beat Pakistan, who moved to the top of the table after scoring a 3-2 victory over South Korea in a later match.
Thus, India's match with Pakistan on Friday is a virtual semi-final. India can afford a draw, provided Malaysia defeats Japan [ Images ]. India can then sneak into the final on a better goal difference, that too if Korea beats China, the lowest ranked team in the tournament.
Goal averages will also count for Pakistan and Korea if India gets the better of Pakistan.
Malaysia, after the draw, is out of the reckoning for a place in the final, having logged four points.
Ravi Pal (9th) and Danish Mujtaba (52nd) scored for India, while Tajuddin Jalil (24th) and Muhammad Amin Rahim (32nd) sounded the board for Malaysia.
India were in attack mode right at the start as Gurwinder Singh Chandi made his customary run into the Malaysian circle, but the first few appeals for penalty-corners were not given by the umpire.
A similar attack between Chandi, Mujtaba and Sunil resulted in a melee, but the penalty-corner did not come India's way.
India, however, scored in the ninth minute, when Sunil shot into the circle and the ball went off Malaysian goalkeeper Roslan Jamaluddin's pads. Ravi Pal picked up the high rebound and whacked it into the goal.
Malaysia dominated the midfield after that, pushing the Indians back. Even the forwards fell back to defend as Malaysia rode on a wave of attacks into the Indian half.
They earned three penalty-corners and finally got the equaliser off the third when Tajuddin Jalil deflected in the flick past Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh in the 25th minute.
India had a penalty-corner but yet again couldn't trap the ball cleanly, the culprit this time being Ignace Tirkey.
In the 32nd minute, Malaysia went ahead following an awful Indian error. A free ball inside the Indian striking circle, with no Malaysian in sight, saw Sreejesh come out charging and kick the ball, which found an Indian defender's foot and the umpire pointed for Malaysia's fourth penalty-corner.
Muhammad Amin scored off a direct flick.
At the break, Malaysia led 2-1.
The second half was a frentic battle for supremacy. Gone was the five forwards formula for both teams as they battled it out for ball possession.
Malaysia had the edge and won four consecutive penalty-corners after resumption, but couldn't score of any. Off their eighth penalty-corner, Sreejesh brought off a brilliant save deflecting the ball away to the touch line.
India earned their third penalty-corner in the 43rd minute against the run of play, but Rupinder Pal Singh failed to flick the ball.
India's bad run on the penalty-corners continued. Struggling against the man-to-man marking of the Malaysians, they finally managed to break their hold in the 53rd minute when Gurbaz moved down the right flank and centered brilliantly and a diving Danish Mujtaba sent the ball into the goal for the equaliser.
The equaliser sparked a search for the match-winner from both teams. Malaysia did hold the edge as they moved much more fluently than the Indians.
The fluency that India displayed against the Koreans wasn't there. Probably playing two matches within the space of 20 hours had taken its toll.
In the dying minutes, India earned their fourth penalty-corner but Rupinder Pal Singh shot straight towards Roslan in the Malaysian goal.
A few more sharp chances came India's way but the Malaysian defence did well to clear them.
Malaysia almost scored in the 68th minute when Tajuddin found himself inside the striking circle with only Sreejesh in front but fumbled and Raghunath cleared the ball away.
Tension mounted as India launched their last attack with 15 seconds to go but Gurbaz, and then Sunil, couldn't finish off the move as the hooter went off.
Japan beat China
In another match, Japan beat China 3-2.
China took the lead in the 27th minute when Song Yi converted a field attempt.
Japan fought back with an equalizer on the break when Kazuyuki Ozawa scored from the top of the circle.
Japan added another two after the break in the 45th and 53rd minutes. They took the lead through a penalty-corner conversion by Shinji Kawauchi and a field attempt for the third goal by Tanaka Kenta.