Asian Hockey Champions Trophy: India cruise into semis

Muscat: The Indian men’s hockey team stormed into the semi-finals of the ongoing fifth edition of the Asian Champions Trophy 2018 after sweeping aside South Korea 4-1 in their final round-robin match here at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Wednesday.

India acquired three points through Harmanpreet Singh’s hat-trick scored in the fifth, 47th and 59th minutes and Gurjant Singh’s 10th-minute strike, which resulted in securing the top position in the pool standings with a tally of 13 points from their five matches and a goal difference of 25.

After ending the previous match in a goalless draw against Malaysia on Tuesday, India attacked the South Koreans from the start.

The team maintained possession in the opening few minutes and were awarded their first Penalty Corner in the fifth minute, which was fiercely struck in the top right corner by drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh, to give India the lead.

In the following minutes, opposition seemed content in sitting back and maintaining a compact structure, which made it difficult for the Indians to break through but in the ninth minute, striker Akashdeep Singh had a chance to score but saw his shot blazed over the crossbar.

The following minute saw the world number five team extend their lead to two goals as they scored through a counter-attack in which Harmanpreet Singh found Gurjant Singh inside the South Korean circle with a precise long pass. The young striker obliged by making a turn and shooting into the top left corner with a tomahawk.

India started the second quarter with some high pressing but the opposition opened their account in the 20th minute against the run of play when a clearance by Surender Kumar was intercepted by a Korean player and passed onto Lee Seungil on the right side of the Indian circle. The Korean skipper struck a vicious shot from a tight angle to beat PR Sreejesh and make the scores 2-1. Two minutes later, the opposing side won their first Penalty Corner but the resulting execution was blocked by the first rusher, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam.

Both the teams had their chances before the half-time break but neither could produce the goods in the final third as India took their 2-1 lead into the interval.

The third period started on an anxious note for India as the South Koreans scored inside 29 seconds, but the goal was disallowed after a successful referral by the Indian team. Another referral took place five minutes later, but this time the World number 14 won another Penalty Corner. However, the resulting execution was well-defended by Indian captain Manpreet Singh. Both the teams battled for possession throughout their third quarter but could not find any real opening.

India in the fourth quarter finally managed to make the most of their opportunity as Harmanpreet Singh converted his second Penalty Corner when he thrashed the ball into the top left corner, past South Korean goalkeeper Kim Jaehyeon to extend India’s lead to 3-1 after 47 minutes. The opposition tried to make a comeback as they were awarded a Penalty Corner in the 54th minute, but Indian goalkeeper Krishan B Pathak made a great reflex save off Jang Jonghyun’s slider shot to deny the South Korean.

Playing with a kicking back for the final few moments, the opposing side could not effectively defend the Penalty Corner as Harmanpreet Singh scored to complete his hat-trick and secure three points for his side.

India will now play their last-four clash of the ongoing fifth edition of the Asian Champions Trophy 2018 on October 27.