Asian Champions Trophy 2018: India within striking distance of second consecutive gold, await Korea or China in final
Coach Sjoerd Marijne had stressed yesterday that recovery was the key for India after an intense encounter against China, but the Golden Girls showed scant signs of fatigue against Malaysia and the 3-2 scoreline was hardly indicative of India's absolute domination. Credit has to be given to the girls for the manner in which they keep the intensity up for the entire sixty minutes, refusing to be bogged down at any stage.
The Indian strikers created numerous chances and lodged themselves in the Malaysian circle for a significant period of time, but some gritty defending from Malaysia ensured that the Indians could score only thrice.
The Indian girls in Donghae are doing just what the Australian men's team often do by launching a barrage of attacks even before the opposition has settled in. Such a strategy can be adopted with confidence only if a team is backed up with a world-class defence as the initial attacks give the opposition ample opportunities to launch quick counters.
Sunita Lakra's team did so yet again and earned a PC even before sixty seconds had elapsed on the clock. The Malaysians, however, seemed to be playing to a plan with their primary objective being to thwart the Indian forwards by crowding the defence and outnumbering them in the striking circle.
Unlike the first two matches, India failed to score in the first quarter. In the second quarter, however, Gurjit Kaur did what she does best and put India ahead with a perfectly executed drag-flick. India looked like scoring several times immediately after but failed to direct the ball goalwards from the shooting circle.
India went into the breather with a one-goal lead and Malaysia would have thanked their stars considering that they could still make a match of it. Vandana had other ideas, however, and her tenacity paid off as she scored immediately after half-time.
The goal seemed to stir up the Malaysian girls and they looked to be fired up more than before. A speedy run induced an obvious obstruction in the Indian circle which resulted in a penalty stroke and Rashid Nuraini made no mistake from the spot. The goal spelt danger for the Indian girls as Malaysia looked determined to find the equalizer.
Lalremsiani, however, showed her brilliance in the 40th minute, by connecting on to a long hard hit in the circle and deflecting it past the Malaysian goalie.
India kept the intensity up but could not manage to score off a couple of goalmouth melees. In the opening minutes of the final quarter, a rare defensive lapse from India saw Hanis Onn find space and direct her shot into the goal but Malaysia could not inflict any further damage and the unbeaten Indians picked up full points to head the table with 9 points.
Vandana was the player of the match yet again and stated that the girls could have performed better. A smiling Marijne, however, opined that it was good to be in the final where India now await either Korea or China. The Indians have a rest day tomorrow and will face Korea in their last group encounter before Sunday's final.
Apart from conceding a few avoidable PCs and being unable to convert some relative simple chances, the Indian girls have been unstoppable thus far in their quest for a second consecutive gold.