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India retains Azlan Shah bronze

Last updated on: May 13, 2007 22:29 IST

A 56th minute goal by Sardara Singh guided India to a 1-0 victory over Asian Games champions South Korea and enabled them finish third in the 16th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup eight-nation hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Sunday.

The scoreline did not reflect India's total dominance. Also, had the Indian forwards not missed a few sitters, they could have won the play-off for 3-4 positions by a bigger margin.

Olympic champions Australia overcame a spirited but disjointed Malaysia 3-1 to win the tournament.

Goals by Edward Ockenden (39th, 41st minute) and Russell Ford (53rd) set up Australia's victory, while the Malaysians drew some consolation from Jiwa Mohan's penalty-corner in the last minute of the game.

It was Australia's third title triumph in four years and their fifth overall in the tournament.

For Malaysia, it was second time unlucky in the final. They had lost to India in 1985, the only other time they entered the final of the tournament.

After a lacklustre first-half performance, the Indians picked up the pace in the second and showcased their talent to earn the approbation of the capacity crowd.

The Indians also owe the victory to goalkeeper Bharat Kumar Chhetri, playing in his first match of the tournament, who brought off three brilliant saves from penalty-corners in the second-half.

An insipid first-half saw the Indians controlling the pace and exchanges without really looking sharp enough to breach the Korean defence that, barring conceding two penalty-corners, hardly put a foot wrong.

The winning goal came in the second half with Roshan Minz bulldozed his way from the left and found Sardara Singh unmarked on top of the circle. The pass on the wrongfoot completely foxed the Korean defence and Sardara had enough time to trap the ball before sending it crashing to the boards.

Raghunath's two attempts with his drag-flicks did not have the power or variety to beat the Korean runners, who literally put their lives on the line while charging at Raghunath to deny him the angles.

That apart, the Indians had just two clear looks at the Korean goal, but on both occasions, goalkeeper Lee Myung Ho brought off fine saves to deny Sardara Singh and Tushar Khandekar, in the fifth and 15th minutes, respectively.

The Koreans made only a couple of forays into the Indian circle, but never looked threatening. For once, the Indian deep defenders excelled in covering and did well to release the ball at the first opportunity.

The Indian midfield was heavily manned with the forwards too playing in defensive positions to nip Korean moves in the bud with some close marking and positional play.

Consequently, Korea could barely launch an effective attack. So much so that the only fireworks in the first-half came from the heavens in form of lightning and thunder.

On restart, Korea showed some urgency after surviving a 40th minute penalty-corner. Yet, with the Indians continuing to break up their moves, the Koreans did make much of an impression.

A loose tackle by Sardara Singh led to the first Korean penalty-corner. Jeong Yun Sang essayed a powerful drag-flick, but goalkeeper Bharat Chhetri, playing his first game of the tournament, did well to block the attempt.

Harpal limped off the pitch necessitating in reorganising the deep defence. But India shrugged off the setback and soon scored through Sardara.

The reverse triggered Korean retaliation, but Chhetri blocked three back-to-back penalty-corner drag-flicks by Sang to keep India afloat.

The Indians had a gilt-edged chance soon after when Gurbaj Singh crossed to Prabhjot Singh across the goalmouth. The forward, however, failed to push it past an off-balanced goalkeeper.

Thereafter, the Indians easily contained the Koreans and even forced a penalty-corner in the final minute, but could not convert it.

Anand Philar
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