Ipoh: A controversial penalty-stroke decision with 50 seconds left on the clock helped Malaysia force a 2-2 draw against India, which robbed the five-time Sultan Azlan Shah Cup champions of a chance to play for the bronze medal. India will now play Pakistan for the fifth place.
India were leading 2-1 until the last minute when the umpires, after awarding a penalty corner to Malaysia, consulted and changed their decision into a penalty stroke. Faisal Saari converted it into a goal to deny India a win.
As a result, India finished last at the end of the pool matches with four points. Pakistan, who drew 2-2 with Korea in an earlier game on Saturday, finished fifth with five points.
Mandeep Singh scored a field goal in the 20th minute and Rupinder Pal Singh's drag-flick in the 48th minute were the two strikes for India while Saari Faizal scored both the goals for the hosts in the fifth and 70th minute. Malaysia, with a final tally of 9 points had already made it to the final before taking on India. Malaysia meant business from the word go with the rhythm and cohesion falling in place quickly but the Indians came back strongly to hold them on a tight leash and emerged a deserving winner.
Malaysia forged ahead in the fifth minute when a daper Saari Faizal banged in the first penalty corner of the match. The hard and high scoop of Faizal brooked no answer from Indian goalkeeper Srejeesh, on a day when he had much less work to do than his counterpart Kumar. India did well to orchestrate concerted attacks from the flanks. Midway through Manpreet Singh set up Mandeep Singh nicely only for the latter to make a hash of it with a soaring hit into the stands. Not long after came India's first penalty corner only for Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar to continue his good work from where he left off in the earlier matches.
Rupinder Pal Singh's drag flick has been ammunition for Kumar with his confidence in the right place coolly palmed it away. A combined move between Manpreet and Akashdeep had the menacing look till Kumar got into the act with his pads as the first line of defence. India was not to be denied long for the equalizer through a peach of a goal from Mandeep Singh with an acrobatic flick when the speed Amit Rohidas powered his way past the Malaysian defence to essay a perfect cross from the left.
Honours even, the Indian attack found the moorings from the flanks to sustain the momentum. The cutting edge to the attack was pronounced whenever midfielder Gurmail Singh doubled up as an attacker. Kumar ensured that the Malaysians crossed over on level terms with a cracker of a save to thwart Indian skipper Danish Mujtaba close to half time. On resumption, the desperation on the Malaysian attack was palpable with a couple of misspasses mirroring the team's discomfiture. They clearly looked short of ideas in a phase admirably dominated by the resurgent Indians.
The Malaysian midfield had the onerous task of pegging back to assist the defence as India did well to keep up the cascading flow of attacks. On the odd occasion, when Rupinder moved up to lend a helping hand in the attack, Harbir Singh rose to the challenge to keep at bay the Malaysians.
For the hosts, veteran Chua Boon Huat's artistry was to the core setting up Tajuddi Ahmed but Sreejesh anticipated well to stifle that. The noise reached a crescendo as time ticked away even as the crowd egged the Malaysians for the elusive winner. The Malaysians tried to ease the pace in the last quarter which allowed the Indian defence to regroup and put a spoke on their defence.
(With additional information from PTI)