India reign over Spain
India continued their good showing under coach C R Kumar, scoring a resounding 3-0 victory over Utrecht '98 runners-up Spain in a classification match in the men's hockey World Cup, in Kuala Lumpur, on Thursday evening.
Since the departure of Cedric D'Souza following a draw and three defeats on a trot, the Indians have struck back with wins over Cuba and Poland, and a fighting 4-3 loss to semi-finalists Australia.
Thursday's win over the Spaniards was a complete turnaround from the early part of their campaign. On Friday, India will fight it out for ninth place, which they achieved at the last World Cup, against Japan or New Zealand, who play later in the evening.
In sharp contrast, Spain have been on a freefall after having upset pre-tournament favourites Germany and the mighty Dutch.
Their slide began when they let in a last second equaliser against South Africa and then subsequently lost to both Pakistan and Argentina in their last two preliminary round matches.
India went into Thursday's match without ace striker Dhanraj Pillay, who had sustained a
hip injury in the last match against Australia. They beaten Spain 3-2 at the Sydney Olympics.
India opened the scoring in the sixth minute after some fine work down the flank by Daljit Dhillon, who passed to brother Baljit. The Indian skipper then went past three defenders to score a breathtaking individual goal.
The second goal came from Jugraj Singh, who scored from a penalty-corner, in the 19th minute.
India's third and final goal materialised after defender Jordi Quintana failed to control the ball in front of goal, allowing Deepak Thakur to score.
Spain tried to fight back through Escarre and Pol Amat but were thrice beaten back by the defence, where Dilip Tirkey,
Lazarus Barla, S S Gill and Ignace Tirkey did a good job.
Spain could have reduced the margin when Escarre, after
beating Devesh Chauhan, slid the ball towards goal, but
Thirumalvalvan, came in fast and made a goalline save.
Chauhan also had a good game where he kept out two very good
In the 23rd minute, India had their second penalty-corner,
but even after taking three shots, they were unable to beat the Spanish goalkeeper, who did well to save.
Coach Kumar was a satisfied man. "We played to our
strength and we succeeded," he said.
Asked to elaborate, the coach said, "Attack is our
strength and we played that game. We kept a floating forward
and that kept up the pressure on the Spanish defence."
Pakistan make sure of top six finish
Pakistan ensured a top six finish by edging host nation Malaysia in front of another capacity crowd on Thursday afternoon.
A defensive mistake by the Malaysian defence allowed Pakistani great Shahbaz Ahmed - playing in probably his last World Cup - to slam the ball past Roslan Jamaluddin.
Shahbaz's goal made it 2-0 and effectively sealed an evenly-contested match in which both sides had their chances.
In the first half, the host nation had three opportunities to score as did the Pakistanis. But while the Malaysians wasted four penalty-corners, Sohail Abbas made it one out of two with a trademark missile into the top corner.
That goal took his tally in the tournament to eight and the distinction of being sole top scorer ahead of England's Dave Mathews.
In the second half, Malaysia constantly pressed for the equalizer, but then Malaysian midfielder Shaiful Azli Rahman missed a cross inside the circle with Shahbaz lurking unmarked beyond him.
A penalty-corner goal by Tajol Rosli Mohd reduced the margin with 11 minutes to go, but the Malaysians were unable to grab a second.
The home boys played too many balls back and square. One of the reasons was that the Pakistanis had at least five players back at all time - a strategy they have carried throughout the tournament.
The Malaysian forwards were also guilty of not holding the ball longer in the attacking zone by generating fouls and maintaining possession.
Malaysia will now fight for seventh place with either Argentina or England tomorrow
Mail Sports Editor