MALACCA: Malaysia won their maiden Junior Asia Cup when they defeated three-time champions Pakistan 2-1 in a tense and thrilling final at the Bukit Serendit Hockey Stadium yesterday.
The team, tagged as favourites for the tournament, lived up to their billing and two goals in the first half did the trick as they defended stoutly in the second half to keep Pakistan at bay.
Even before the start, the atmosphere at the stadium was electrifying as 7,500 fans packed the stands to the brim well before the 8.00pm start. Hundreds more were not able to get in.
The Malaysians played liked men possessed in the first half but turned into a timid mouse in the second half. Still credit must be given for their tenacity to withstand the Pakistan onslaught.
Malaysia’s coach K. Dharmaraj said winning the title was the best thing to happen for Malaysian hockey and he hopes it is the start of better things to come for the sport in the country.
“I am very proud of my players as they fought hard for the title. This is a grand occasion for Malaysian hockey and we dedicate it to the fans who have stood by the team through thick and thin.
“There were some tense moments but we managed to keep our cool in the end,” said Dharmaraj.
Malaysia, cheered on by the vociferous fans, started off with a bang and two minutes into the game scored the opening goal.
It came from a quick counter attack which resulted in a penalty corner. Faisal Saari, who was also on target in the semi-final against India, sent his drag flick past goalkeeper Mazhar Abbas into the net.
The goal spurred the players on and they kept attacking the Pakistan goal but were denied on several occasions by their opponents.
Pakistan nearly drew level in the 12th minute when Mohamed Irfan took a snap shot from the semi–circle but Malaysian custodian Mohamed Hazrul Faiz Ahmad Sobri pulled off a brilliant save.
Firhan Ashaari could have doubled the advantage in the 16th minute as he broke through the centre but his attempt was well read by Mazhar.
But there was no denying the goal-hungry Malaysians as Mohd Syamim Mohd Yusof made it 2-0 in the 18th minute to leave Pakistan shell-shocked.
Malaysia was guilty of overdoing things after the second goal and this allowed Pakistan’s trio of Irfan, Mohamed Suleman and Mohamed Dilber to string together several attacking moves.
But good defending by Kavin Kartik and skipper Mohd Noor Faeez Ibrahim kept them at bay.
A minute before half-time Pakistan was awarded their first penalty corner. But Muhammad Tousiq sent his attempt sailing over the bar.
The second half saw Pakistan launching wave after wave of attacks and they were rewarded for their efforts in the 42nd minute when Irfan slotted home from close range to reduce the deficit.
Now it was Malaysia’s turn to back-pedal as Pakistan came charging at them in their search for the equaliser.
Several times Malaysia were desperately clearing the ball away from the danger zone.
A free-for-all almost erupted in the heat of the game in the 67th minute. And in the ensuing melee Malaysia’s Mohamed Syamin and Pakistan’s Mohamed Khalid were yellow carded.
Still, it was Pakistan doing all the attacking but the determined Malaysians held on to win their first Junior Asia Cup.
Earlier, India took third place after extra time. The score at regulation time stood at 1-1. But the Indians prevailed through a golden goal scored by Akashdeep Singh in the 80th minute to beat South Korea 2-1.
Article 1st Published at http://www.malaysiahockey.com
Malaysia also grabbed the lion's share of honours as Kavin Kartik was named as Man of the Final while the top scorer's award was shared by Korea's Yang Jihun and Faizal Saari with six goals each. Malaysia's Hazrul Faiz was the Best Goalkeeper as well as Player of the Tournament.