It was a contest that could potentially have been the match of the tournament and was expected to begin with a flurry of goals, but it soon fizzled out into a scrappy affair with scores of turnovers but nothing to show on the scoresheet in the India vs Malaysia match at the Asian Champions Trophy 2018 on Tuesday.
The Indians began the first quarter in right earnest and made merry in the Malaysian circle while a great number of crosses sizzled across the goalmouth but failed to make their way past Hairi Rahman, who was guarding the Malaysian citadel in place of an injured Kumar Subramaniam.
A goalless first quarter seemed to have got the Indians worried and instead of building attacks patiently, they let fly a great number of crashing long balls which failed to find a blue shirt in the Malaysian circle.
Roelant Oltmans stated that he was disappointed with his chargers for holding back in their own territory, but that did seem to be the deliberate strategy, as the Malaysians defended doggedly and relied on rare counterattacks to find the elusive opening goal.
For their part, the Indians entered the Malaysian circle 22 times and managed 6 cracks on goal, but it was all in vain as the final passes in the circle were either too short or too long to be effective.
In a desperate attempt in the final quarter, Manpreet attempted to force his way forward, as he had done against Pakistan, but was brought down by Tajuddin Tengku who was promptly sent to the sin bin with a yellow card.
Nilakanta Sharma had a great chance to score with a clear shot goalwards which was inches off target. Faiz Jalil kept strict tabs on the movements of the Indian strikers throughout the match but even his exit following an injury failed to inspire Harendra's chargers to manufacture a magical moment in front of goal.
Oltmans' boys defended even more tenaciously after being down to ten men but conceded a couple of PCs which the Indians made a mess of, and Faizal Saari failed to make the most of a golden chance to counter.
It was, therefore, an absolute anticlimax in the end, and worryingly for the Indians, they failed to sort the Malaysians out ahead of next month's World Cup. Manpreet and Co. looked distinctly edgy at times, and it did seem as if they were treating the pool game like a knockout.
Were both teams unwilling to go all out as they expect to, perhaps, meet in the final again?
We will have to wait to find the answer to that one but the Indians play South Korea on Wednesday -- a team which has beaten Japan and Oman, but lost to Pakistan and Malaysia.
The Indians beat South Korea 5-3 at Jakarta but were taken aback when the Koreans scored two quick goals after half-time to stage a comeback after being down 0-3.
In spite of Tuesdays draw, the Indians are on top as far as the standings are concerned and may well look to end their campaign in the pool phase with a goal fest.
Here is how you can catch all the action:
Event: Asian Champions Trophy 2018
Venue: Muscat, Oman
Date: 24 October 2018
Time: 10:40 pm Indian Standard Time (IST)
Telecast: Star Sports 2, Star Sports HD2
Live Streaming: Hotstar
Live Updates: Sportskeeda