While Australia booked their place in the final, three other teams are fighting for the right to play them this Saturday. At present Argentina are in second spot with 7 points while Malaysia with 6 points at third and England who have five points are in forth position.
Australia defeated Ireland 4-1 and booked a place in Saturday’s final with a match to spare. Four wins out of four matches gave the Aussies 12 points to seal the spot in their quest for their 10th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup title. It will be Australia’s 13th appearance in the final of the Cup since 1983 – winning nine times (last time in 2016), runners-up four times (1999, 2006, 2015 and 2017) and finished third three times (1994, 2001, 2010).
Colin Batch the Australian coach was obviously pleased with his teams win. “We can make it hard for ourselves or make it easy but the fact that we scored 3 goals in the first half and established a winning score,” said Batch. “It should be a winning score and proved to be a winning score. But still there was a lot of fight from the Irish and we expected that”. He added, “ We did not give them too many opportunities and I am pleased with how we ended this match. Certainly, in the attack there are always things we need to fine tune. We can always do that better. The weather was a little hot in the first half (direct sun) but we play again on Friday against Argentina at the same time. If we can play like these six matches in eight days, it is an amazing preparation for us towards the Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy and World Cup”.
Jake Whetton opened accounts with a goal in the 11th minute following a brilliant individual effort that sailed past goalkeeper Mark Ingram while Daniel Beale extended the lead in the 14th minute . Blake Govers later several wasted penalty corners got his act right by scooping the ball into the top of the net in the 21st minute for a 3-0 lead. With 10 minutes to the end of the fourth quarter, Jake Harvie steers the ball into goal after a cross from Beale to give Australia a commanding 4-0 lead. Shane O’Donoghue placed the ball into the net with a powerful drive to reduce the deficit in the 57 minute.
England and Argentina played out a 1-1 draw, and in the process affected the chances of both teams in their quest to make the final. Argentina have seven points – two behind leaders Australia while England (5 points). “I thought we played well against Argentina with a combination of us not being very good in the penalty circle, said England coach Bobby Crutchley. “Sometimes you just need a bit of luck. They have a good goalkeeper but overall, I am upset with the result but really pleased with the performance. We have played Argentina before and we know we can dominate the game. You don’t have to give them many penalty corners, but they can defend really well too. They can stay in the game and that is why they are Olympics champions. We are obviously relying on other results if we got a hope in making the final as we want to finish in the tournament as higher as possible and obviously Malaysia is playing well now. We are looking forward to that game (against Malaysia) on Friday. We will be playing a little bit later and it will be cooler and with a full crowd we are excited by that.”
The Argentinians went into the match hoping to bounce back from the surprise 2-1 loss to Malaysia on Wednesday. The English were more enterprising in the first half. They made 10 circle entries against four by Argentina but could not find the gaps to score. In the ensuing penalty corner, Sam Ward was deemed to have stopped the ball with his feet that subsequently resulted in a penalty stroke and Juan Gilardi outfoxed goalkeeper Juan Vivaldi by placing the ball into the top net.
England earned their only penalty corner of the match in the 56th minute and David Condon restored parity from a goalmouth melee. Argentina forced two consecutive penalty corners with just 58 seconds remaining, but England’s defense stood strong. “It was a tough match of course. Playing England or any other team in the middle of the field will always be tough matches”, said Argentina coach Rolando Rivero. “We are concerned about how we have been playing in the last two matches. The stoppers need to improve their game and Gonzalo Peillat is not very happy with it. But we are doing very well in defending the penalty corners. It’s going to be a tough match against Australia on Friday and we are going to try and win this match for the three points”.
India dealt a severe blow to the hopes of hosts Malaysia by inflicting a 5-1 trashing. It was a game that Malaysia were tipped to win what more with the Indians fielder Ng largely youngsters for this tournament. But Malaysia have only themselves to blame as they seem to run out of steam after the hard fought win over Argentina the previous night. India only had one point to show before the match courtesy of the 1-1 draw against England. And Malaysia, fresh from their impressivee win over Olympic gold medalists Argentina the previous day were looking at three points to boost their chances of joining Australia in Saturday’s final.
A steady downpour greeted the two teams but that somewhat doused the electrifying atmosphere that used to prevail over the Stadium as most fans decided to stay home. India went in the offensive from the first whistle, as the Malaysians seemed rather slow to react. And in the 10th minute India deservingly took the lead the Shivanand Lakra. The home team seem to have lost their direction after that as there was no build up play, with Long balls being forced into the semi-circle that hardly troubled the Indian defense. The breakthrough came in the 33rd minute when Malaysia were awarded their first penalty corner of the match. And Faizal Saari made his attempt count to level things at 1-1. India edged ahead through a penalty corner rebound neatly tucked away by Gurjant Singh in the 42nd minute. Sumit Kumar then made it 3-1 in the 48th minute and it was becoming a mountain to climb for Malaysia. Ramandeep Singh made it 4-1 in the 48th minute Gurjant Singh completed the rout in the 57th minute.
On Saturday, Australia will play Argentina, both of whom are favorites to play in the final. Ireland will play India, who displayed strong character yesterday and took their chances against the in-form host side. Malaysia will play England in the final day of the group stages.