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 February 27, 2002 | 1640IST

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India waste 'stroke', lose to Malaysia

Our Correspondent

Malaysia gave India a lesson in modern hockey as they beat the 1975 champions 3-2 in the men's hockey World Cup in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. They drove home the point that all the frills and artistry have little meaning; it is goals that matter. They scored thrice from fine pieces of opportunism and even a late fight back by the Indians was not enough to deny them their second victory from three matches in Pool B.

As for India, it was their second successive defeat. They have just a solitary point from a draw in their opening match against Japan. Now they can only hope for a better finish than the ninth placing they ended up at in the last World Cup in Utrecht.

In the day's earlier matches, in Pool A, Spain shocked Germany 3-2, the Netherlands cruised to their third win with a 5-1 triumph over Belgium and Argentina were never in trouble as they beat South Africa 4-1 to collect their first points.

India again paid the price for some poor play by their midfield and defence. Like in their matches against Japan and Korea, they left yawning gaps for the Malaysian forwards to exploit and score from them. The match statistics will show that the Malaysians had just three clear looks at the Indian goal and made the best of them. Their goals came from set pieces in regular play. They did not even have a single penalty-corner compared to India's seven, yet they came out tops.

India's misery was compounded when their skipper Baljit Dhillon failed to find the mark from a penalty-stroke, after the team had reduced the margin to 2-3, with three minutes to go.

Malaysia forged ahead even before the teams could settle down. A move down the right flank saw the ball being crossed to forward Shankar Shangmuganam at the top of the circle. Without delay, he dispatched a crisp shot which caught Indian goalkeeper Jude Menezes on the wrong foot. The ball sped like a bullet to the far right corner of the goal.

That was in the first minute. The Indians came back strongly and did get the ball into the goal in the fifth minute, from a Baljit Saini free-hit on the right of the circle. Dhanraj Pillay threw himself forward to deflect the ball into the goal, but surprisingly umpire Steve Graham disallowed the goal. The Indians protested but after consultation with the other umpire -- Hamish Jamson of England -- he stuck to his decision.

With better promptings than in their previous matches from the midfield, the Indians countinued to apply pressure but just could not score. Two chances came their way -- in the 10th and 13th minutes, after Prabhjot Singh worked his way down the left flank and centred the ball, but their was no one to intercept the cross.

And, as usual, much against the run of play, India were further into arrears, when Jeevan Raj scored from a scrimmage in the circle. Menezes twice did well to pad away the ball, but Raj made the best of a defensive lapse by Baljit Saini, who failed to trap and clear Menezes's kick, and slotted home.

Then amidst a steady drizzle, which grew heavier, India stormed the Malaysian citadel, with Pillay, who played as centre forward today, leading the raids. They forced two penalty-corners but the inability to halt the ball cleanly and lack of a proper plan in the indirect variation saw the corners go wasted.

With the rain showing no signs of letting up, the umpires decided to halt play immediately after India's third penalty-corner in the 24th minute.

When play resumed after a 42-minute break, the Malaysians intelligently used the width of the filed with long passes. They moved the ball back and forth and totally outlayed the Indians for the 11 minutes that were left In fact, they hardly allowed the Indians to touch the ball during that period which also saw them get their third goal. It was the result of a brilliant piece of opportunism. From the right flank, Madzil Ikmar Mohammad essayed a diagonal into the circle and Malaysia skipper Mirnawan Nawawi took the Indian defence by surprise as he, with his back to the Indian goal, deflected the spheroid, which looked going wide, into the goal. Indian 'keeper Devesh Chauhan, who had replaced Menezes after the rain interruption, was rooted to the ground - 3-0.

In the second session, Malaysia were content with holding possession and looking for the quick break. But a goal by Daljit Dhillon, who slotted home a pass from brother Baljit in the 52nd minute, changed the complexion of the match. The Indians suddenly came alive; they launched an all-out assault and five minutes later the pulled another goal back.

After wasting two penalty-coners -- their fifth and sixth of the match -- Prabhjot Singh struck following a scrimmage near the goalmouth.

With Malaysia's lead reduced to 2-3, India maintained the pressure and forced another penalty-corner in the 61st minute. Dilip Tirkey's hit struck a defender on the foot and the umpire promptly pointed to the 'spot' for a penalty-stroke. But, as luck would have it, Baljit Dhillon pushed straight into goalkeeper Jamaluddin.

With that went India's chance of salvaging at least a point, though they did force another penalty-corner three minutes from time.

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