India survived the Chinese penalty corner blitz for a 5-4 win against the Asian Games silver medalists for their first win in group 'A' league of the 16th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia on Sunday.
In a bizarre match that saw 14 penalty corners being awarded, eight to China and six to India, besides two penalty strokes, India just about managed to cling to a slender lead after falling in arrears in the third minute.
China kept India on tenterhook by converting three of their eight penalty corners through Yang Yu (4th), Yi Song (20th) and Hui Ren Hu (37th).
However the Indians decidedly the superior outfit on the day, replied in kind. V Ramachandra Raghunath (19th, 43rd) flicked home two penalty corners after Prabhjot Singh (5th) had scored the equaliser.
Rajpal Singh (35th) and Bimal Lakra (60th) converted a penalty stroke each to provide India an insurance against a late Chinese comeback that had Yi Song scoring his second goal of the match in the 64th minute.
Indian coach Joaquim Carvalho had dubbed it a "grudge match" in the light of China's 3-2 win in the Doha Asian Games last year. As such, the intensity was very much evident in their play and should have scored more than five goals.
The first-half was more or less even with both teams having fair share of exchanges and scoring opportunities.
While it took the Indians two goals to figure out the Chinese penalty corner variations, they looked the superior side when in flow. It was the Chinese man-to-man marking that denied the Indians more success.
The Chinese, like angry bees, kept buzzing around the Indian defence where Harpal Singh had a poor game. There were a few anxious moments in the Indian half where the defenders had to tread on eggshells for fear of conceding penalty corners.
China struck even before the Indians could settle down when Yu completed a three-touch penalty corner variation that totally foxed the defence in the fourth minute. However, the Indians equalised in the very next minute.
Prabhjot, lurking unmarked behind the defence, slotted home Harpal's free-hit from the right.
Thereafter, the Indians dictated the flow and past the 19th, Raghunath drag-flicked a penalty corner to give them a 2-1 lead that survived for just one minute as China caught up on Yi Song's conversion. Yet again, the Indian defence appeared bemused by the Chinese variation.
There were periods of midfield play thereafter, but towards close, the Indians increased the pace.
A searing breakaway run by Roshan Minz caught the Chinese defence upfield. Minz accelerated and laid a superb pass to Prabhjot on his right. The winger, on advancing into the circle, essayed a drive that came off goalkeeper Ri Feng Su. Off the rebound, Shivendra made an attempt that struck defender Hui Ren Hu on the body leading to a penalty stroke.
Rajpal made no mistake with the attempt and the Indians went into the breather with a 3-2 advantage.
Hu made up for his lapse a minute into the second-half when he converted a penalty corner and yet again the slip ball foxed the Indians.
Almost immediately, the Indians nearly scored their fourth goal when Tushar Khandkar steamed in from the left and flicked to boards from almost zero angle after the ball had struck a defender.
Umpire Iggo (New Zealand) awarded a penalty corner that proved abortive, instead of applying the advantage rule and award India a goal.
Nevertheless, the Indians continued to press hard and forced their fourth penalty corner. Raghunath was on target with a powerful drag-flick to the net (4-3).
With India continuing to hold the upper hand, the Chinese goal was in constant danger. A swift Indian attack led to a penalty corner, off which Raghunath's attempt struck a defender on the body resulting in a penalty stroke. Bimal Lakra easily converted and India looked home and dry at 5-3.
However, the Chinese were far from finished. A swift counter-attack on the left saw Yi Song flicking home from close to keep China's hopes alive. With the match poised on a knife-edge, the Indians kept their cool to pick up three points.
Malaysia made the best of good fortune and scrambled to a 2-0 win over Canada for their first win in group 'B' matches.
Jiwa Mohan converted a 10th minute penalty corner for Malaysia and the hosts hung on grimly to the slender lead before Mohd Sharun deflected from their seventh set-piece in the 70th.
It was a tale of missed chances at both ends with the Malaysians more guilty of muffing opportunities.
On their parts, the Canadians, who thus crashed to their second defeat in as many matches, following the 1-0 reverse to South Korea on Saturday, never looked like scoring despite their frequent presence in the Malaysian circle.
A 47th minute penalty corner conversion by Lucas Rafael Rossi powered Argentina to a 1-0 win against Olympic champions and World number two Australia in a Group A match earlier in the day.
Played in intensely hot and humid conditions, the Aussies, who had beaten India 1-0 on Saturday, just failed to get going and worse, their finish was simply woeful.
In contrast, Argentina at best were persistent in a match that had little on offer for the connoisseur dictated as it was by much physical play.
At the end of the day, Argentina, ranked number seven in the World, owed it to their goalkeeper Mariano Rodolfio Chao whose performance under the bar repeatedly frustrated the Aussies.
The lone Argentine success had an element of luck when a deflection off their very first penalty corner came to Rossi who swept the ball home with the Aussie defenders caught on the wrong foot.
In the final 15 minutes, the Aussies stepped up the pace and forced five penalty corners, but could not convert any.