Millennium Post

Azlan Shah Cup: India clinch win with last minute strike

Five-time champions India bounced back from an opening match defeat to beat South Korea 2-1 with a last-minute strike from S.K. Uthappa in a closely contested match at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here on Friday.

The win comes as a huge confidence boost for India, who suffered a 1-5 thrashing in their opening game against New Zealand.

It was truly a classic encounter as India scored the winner with 55 seconds remaining to reignite their hopes after a poor match against New Zealand the previous day.

India took the lead in the 12th minute when Sandeep Singh scored a penalty corner, ironically their only penalty corner of the match.

Just when India thought that they had wrapped up all three points, Korea scored the equaliser when the attempt by Nam Hyun Woo sailed into goal off the stick of Manpreet Singh in the 66th minute.

With a draw looking as the likely result, Tushar Khandker sent in a cross from the left which was deflected by Uthappa to give India the much needed win.

India coach Michael Nobbs, however, was not happy with the team's performance. The Australian said that the players did not play according to the plan and allowed the Koreans to dominate the proceedings.

"It was a good first half but the players lost the plot in the second half and allowed Korea to dominate the proceedings. The players were not playing to the instructions and game plan and hence we struggled to match the Koreans," said Nobbs.

Nobbs also warned the players that the Azlan Shah Cup was a chance for him finalise the squad for the London Games.

Nobbs said India have to close the gap with higher ranked teams like Britain and New Zealand.

"We seemed to have problems with teams like Great Britain and New Zealand and need to close the gap playing them. Indian hockey needs to play catch-up and start defeating these teams in order for us to move up the rankings," he said.

The tournament will serve India as a platform to fine tune their skills ahead of the London Olympics. India will also be looking to make a podium finish after finishing a disappointing sixth last year in the seven-nation tournament.

India next face defending champions Britain (May 27), Malaysia (May 28), Argentina (May 30) and Pakistan (May 31).

Britain, who are the highest ranked team here at World No.4, are the tournament favourites and will attempt to win their first title in 18 years, having won it in 1994.

Except Malaysia, all the six participating teams have qualified for the Olympics. In fact, South Korea and New Zealand are clubbed with India in the same group in the London Olympic Games.

Eight-time Olympic champions in hockey, India had shockingly missed the 2008 Beijing Games for the first time in the 80-year history of the sport in the Olympics.
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