New Delhi: Having lost three of their four matches, India are out of contention for a summit clash at the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, but a win against Malaysia and favourable results in the other two pool games on Saturday will bring India an opportunity to have a crack at third-place finish.
Currently languishing at sixth place on the points table with three points, India will need to beat Malaysia and hope Korea and Pakistan - both of who have four points each - play out a draw. That will take India to fourth spot with six points at the end of pool engagements, ahead of Korea and Pakistan.
With eight points each, Australia and Malaysia both sit on top separated just by goal difference. New Zealand, who are third with six points, need to beat Australia on Saturday for a place in the title clash, while a draw will be enough for the Aussies to finish in top two. Malaysia play India in the last match on Saturday and thus will know what exactly they need to go through.
India began the tournament on the wrong foot, losing to Australia 3-4 and Korea 1-2. While a 3-1 victory over archrivals Pakistan lifted the young team's morale, New Zealand got the better of coach Michael Nobbs' boys 2-0 to put India's title aspirations to bed.
A third-place finish will do a world of good to this young Indian team, which has 10 players in the under-21 age group. However, to do that, the forwards need to find their rhythm and the midfield needs to be more fluid, which is where India have lacked on this tour.
Vice captain and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has been excellent under the bar, but skipper Danish Mujtaba has failed to lead by example in his first stint as captain. Youngsters Mandeep Singh, Malak Singh, Gurmail Singh and Nithin Thimmaiah have been excellent in patches and need to be consistent.
Malaysia, on the other hand, have been on a giant-killing run having beaten New Zealand and Korea while holding Australia and Pakistan to draws. Their young forward Faisal Saari has been in terrific goal-scoring form and will be the player to watch in the match against India on Saturday.