SK Uthappa's last-minute strike helped India to a much-needed 2-1 victory against Korea at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Friday.
The match turned out to be a classic hockey encounter with both the teams hungry for their first win - after India lost to New Zealand and Koreans drew with Malaysia on Thursday.
India managed to get into lead as early as the 12th minute, thanks to Sandeep Singh's penalty-corner conversion that he slapped into the top right corner of the Korean goal. That, in fact, was India's only penalty corner of the game. The teams went into the change-rooms with India holding onto their 1-0 lead – courtesy two crucial saves by the Indian skipper Bharat Chetri in the goal, including Korea's first penalty corner in the 35th minute. Chetri replaced P Sreejesh, who let in five goals against New Zealand.
The Koreans came back strongly in the second-half, enjoying more of the possession in India's half. However, the Indian defence held up against the pacy Koreans who failed to find the target despite repeated raids. The equaliser finally arrived for the men in red shirts when Nam Hyun Woo's hit sailed into the goal off Manpreet Singh's stick in the 66th minute.
The teams ran each other close in the dying minutes of the game, but it was India who had the last laugh when Uthappa scored 55 seconds to full-time with a deflection off Tushar Khandker's cross from the left.
"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. Hence, e struggled to match the Koreans [in the second half]," India coach Michael Nobbs said, analysing India's narrow win.
India lost their opening match of the tournament 1-5 against New Zealand and will now meet Great Britain on May 27.