India stage sensational turnaround to win Asian Champions Trophy
The Harmanpreet-led outfit came from behind to beat Malaysia in the final
For roughly one-third of the Asian Champions Trophy final, the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium was enveloped by an unearthly lull. There were 9,000 fans in the stadium but you wouldn't have known. They had been stunned into silence by Malaysia's brilliant play and with only 16 minutes to go in the match, hosts India were trailing 1-3.
For the first time in the 10-day event, the Harmanpreet Singh-led outfit were behind by two goals. Malaysia, in their first-ever summit clash of the continental tourney, had hustled like mad in the first two quarters of the match, earning five penalty corners, scoring three goals. They had pushed India into a corner and almost everyone in the crowd was waiting to see the home team respond.
Then, in the 45th minute, they witnessed a moment of magic. Sukhjeet Singh made a brilliant run toward the Malaysian goal only to be fouled. Harmanpreet, who had missed a penalty stroke against South Korea, stepped forward yet again. This time, he didn’t miss. Even before Malaysia could settle again, Gurjant Singh slammed in another goal. Within 60 seconds, India had drawn level.
From this point on, they were clearly in the ascendancy. A few minutes later, Akashdeep Singh scored the fourth goal to help India stage a sensational comeback and beat Malaysia 4-3. This was India's fourth triumph at the event and with it, they also became the most successful team in the event’s history.
The goals by Jugraj Singh (9th), Harmanpreet (45th), Gurjant (45th) and Akashdeep Singh (56th) helped them win their first title since claiming the Olympic bronze in Tokyo two years back. The title also comes on the 75th anniversary of independent India’s first Olympic medal, the gold that was won by the Kishan Lal-led men’s hockey team in 1948.
In the final between the two top teams of the tournament, it was the Speedy Tigers who took the early initiative. Malaysia, eager to avenge their 0-5 humiliation at the hands of the hosts during the round-robin stage, used their speed to make incisive runs into the Indian striking circle.
Accustomed to hot and humid conditions in their home country, Malaysia maintained good ball speed. But India regrouped, found their bearings and slowly started to find their feet in the match.
The Craig Fulton-coached side stayed patient as the Malaysian fullbacks kept passing the ball among themselves but the moment they witnessed a slight drop, Jarmanpreet Singh took advantage to pass to Selvam Karthi, who earned the first PC of the match. Harmanpreet was not on the field but it didn’t matter as Jugraj put the ball past Malaysia goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman to put India in the lead.
A momentary lapse by the Indian defenders allowed Malaysia's Abu Kamal Azrai to equalise in the 14th minute.
The goal completely shifted the momentum in favour of Malaysia, who slowed down the game to earn four penalty corners, converting two. Razie Rahim (18th) and Muhamad Aminuddin (28th) put the ball beyond PR Sreejesh to help their team end the first half 3-1 ahead.
Rattled by successive goals, India were now chasing the game. Malaysia were on the rampage, maintaining possession and attacking with pace too. It took a while but India eventually started to find a better rhythm. That counterattacking spirit finally earned them the penalty stroke. And the goal that followed was received with ear-splitting roars from the crowd. India responded by scoring another and the crowd could finally start to breathe again.
India's goals smelled to quell Malaysia's fight and from that point on, the ball was only moving in the direction of the Malaysian goal. The momentum had once again shifted.
India wasted a few chances but the goal finally came when Shamsher yet again won the ball for India, pushing it to Sukhjeet who sent it to Akashdeep Singh in the circle.
The Indian striker was alert to the opportunity, even though he had his back to the goal. A quick turn allowed him to whack in the winner and help India lift the Asian Champions Trophy for the first time since 2018.
The crowd, which had been sitting on the edge of their seats, began shrieking “India, India”, dancing to the beat of the dhol. The silence that accompanied large portions of the match was a distant memory and all that remained was the sound of joy