India and Malaysia top pools, Pakistan and Korea remain in hunt for title in Dhaka
Four teams remain in the hunt for glory at the men's Hero Asia Cup 2017, currently being played in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with India and Malaysia showing outstanding form to top the pools as the competition enters the Super 4s phase.
India and Malaysia are joined in the Super 4s - a round robin competition between the teams that finished in the top two positions in Pools A and B - by Pakistan and Korea, who did enough to keep their own dreams of winning the competition very much alive.
India showed exactly why they are the highest ranked team in the competition with a trio of wins in Pool A, comfortably seeing off the challenges of Japan (5-1) and hosts Bangladesh (7-0) before producing a battling victory over long-time rivals Pakistan (3-1) to finish at the top of the standings.
As expected, Pakistan proved to be India's toughest opponent, with the competition favourites taking a narrow 1-0 lead into half time before two goals in two third quarter minutes from Ramandeep Singh and Harmanpreet Singh effectively sealed all three points.
Pakistan’s Ali Shan pulled a goal back with 11 minutes of the match remaining, but it was not enough to deny India a first place finish in the pool ahead of Pakistan, who finished second and also move into the Super 4s. Japan and Bangladesh finished Pool A in third and fourth place respectively, and will feature in the 5-8 classification matches.
Speaking shortly after the triumph against Pakistan, India captain Manpreet Singh said: “Yes we are happy about winning the match but we didn’t play our best game. We had quite a few missed chances and I feel the team lost a little bit of focus. We should have got more goals and we will be working on the mistakes we made and strive to improve in the Super 4s stage.”
In-form Malaysia were the dominant force in Pool B, storming to three successive victories and ensure that they enter the Super 4s in confident mood. Unpredictable attacker Faizal Saari has been at his mercurial best and currently sits top of the competition scoring charts, his six goals being crucial to triumphs over China (7-1), Korea (2-1) and Oman (7-1).
Following victory over Oman, Malaysia Head Coach Stephen van Huizen said: “We went into this match knowing that we had already made the Super 4s, so we tried to manage our performance without overworking and at the same time improve on certain areas. I am happy we won comfortably and we look forward to Super 4s. Every match hence forth will be tough and we have to be our best in all three matches to make the final.”
Reigning Asia Cup champions Korea took second place in Pool B, although they entered their final pool game against China knowing that defeat would have been catastrophic on two fronts. A loss would not only have ended hopes of defending their title, but also killed the chance to secure that all-important World Cup ticket that comes with winning a Continental Championship.
Although both sides started the match level on four points apiece, Korea’s superior goal difference meant that a draw would be enough for them to qualify for the Super 4s, with China knowing that only victory would keep alive their own Asia Cup ambitions.
As he has done so often down the years, veteran penalty corner ace Jang Jong-Hyun made a significant contribution to Korea’s fortunes, scoring twice in a 4-1 win to ensure that his team joined India, Pakistan and Malaysia in the next phase of the competition. The result meant China finished third in Pool B, with Oman fourth.
China may not have reached the Super 4s, but there is still potential for a happy ending in Bangladesh. Thanks to their performances at the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final in London earlier this year, China are currently next in line for a ticket to the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018. With India, Pakistan and Malaysia having already qualified, only a Korea title success here in Dhaka will be enough to deny China their ticket to next year’s global showpiece.
The Super 4s phase of the Asia Cup starts on Wednesday 18th October, with Malaysia facing Pakistan and India taking on Korea. The day’s play will also feature a solitary match in the 5-8 classification phase, with Japan and Oman going head to head.
To keep track of all the action from the Hero Asia Cup, please visit the competition event webpage or following the Asia Hockey social media channels on the links below.