Malacca (Malaysia): India eked out a hard-fought 2-1 victory over China in their last pool match to enter the semifinals of the seventh junior men's Asia Cup hockey tournament in Malacca on Monday. Naveen Antil (19th min) and Amit Rohidas (57th) scored the goals for India, while the Chinese lone reply came through winger Yu Xin in the 45th minute.
Having registered two wins and a draw, India collected seven points to move into the last four stage. India needed to score a victory against China to top the pool but the Chinese packed their defence well as they did not let the Indians yield any generous leeway. The Chinese even threatened to pull off a draw and the Indian defence had to stretch themselves in the second half to keep their rival forwards at bay.
India took a long time to settle down. It was winger Antil who tapped in a melee to give India the much needed goal in the 19th minute. There were many chances to go up subsequently but the forwards in Malak Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Satbir Singh were wayward inside the circle.
After the teams changed sides with the scorecard reading 1-0 in India's favour, China scored the equaliser 15 minutes into the second half when Yu Xin connected a Zhang Zhixuan's hit in from the top of D much against the run of play.
Indians attacked relentlessly, opening the wings and tightening the midfield, but chances were wasted due to poor finish inside the circle. India's penalty corner battery too was unimpressive. But vice-captain Rohidas managed to send in a grounder off the fifth chance they got, much to the relief of their camp.
The Chinese pressed hard in the last ten minutes stretching the Indian defence manned by Amit and Sukhmanjit Singh. Sushant Tirkey, the Indian goalie also came up with good saves to keep the lead intact.
"It's a do or die situation for the Chinese. They have nothing to lose. Since we did not put much goals, they pressed hard. This has resulted in a tense match. Had we only did well in the circle, utilising our chances, things would have been different," said India coach Baljit Singh Saini. "A 4-1 score would have been ideal, but it's a lesson for our forwards for the future. They have to be sharper and productive inside the circle," he added.
Saini though admitted that China were a strong side. "At the same time, we have to look at the fact that the Chinese played superbly against Pakistan too. They are a good side. Sometimes, you play well still lose a point or two, and today we collected full points, this is what matters in the end," he said.
India will next face either Pakistan or Sri Lanka in the semifinals. Pakistan need to defeat Sri Lanka by 12-goal margin to top the pool and therefore avoid Malaysia in the cross over semifinal on Thursday.