Australia moved a step closer to their 13th Sultan Azlan Cup final after a hard earned 2-1 win over Great Britain while India edged Japan 4-3 as hosts Malaysia went down 1-0 to New Zealand. Australia lead the table with 10 points – three more then Great Britain, New Zealand and India. Friday’s last group fixtures will determine which team makes the final. The Kookaburras play Japan, Great Britain takes on New Zealand while Malaysia locks horns against India.
One thing is certain, Malaysia and Japan will play for the 5/6 placing irrespective of the results on Friday. Australia are virtually in the final but they remained focused for the final day pool matches. ” The first quarter was evenly contested and we only got the space to move forward after the first goal. We are obviously glad to win this match as we came here knowing every match is going to be tough,” said Australian coach Colin Batch.
” I have not seen the standings and how we stand but mathematically we have done everything here – score goals, win matches and we am not sure if we are in the final until after our last match against Japan on Friday. It does not matter where you stand in world rankings, perhaps a year or two ago it matters but now all the teams have improved tremendously. We have a rest day tomorrow and we will plan what’s best for our last league match. The players are very tired right now.”
The match got off to a cautious note in the early proceedings. Australia could have earned a penalty stroke in the 25th minute when Malaysian umpire Eric Koh was sure Aaron Kleinschmidt’s strike had hit the body of postman Sam Ward. However, this decision was annulled by the video referral umpire when the footage showed it came off Ward’s stick. Trent Mitton, broke the deadlock when he lifted the ball past goalkeeper Harry Gibson in the 44th minute from ab acute angle.
It was a nail-biting finish as Great Britain saw light at the end of the tunnel with a flourish finish from Mark Gleghorne in the 51st minute to draw level 1-1. However Australia bounced back a minute later as Matt Dawson converted their fourth penalty corner seven minutes from time.
” It was a tough game but Great Britain did not have many chances. It was a lot of Australia having control.,” said GB coach Bobby Crutchley. “We have come here to win matches. There is no doubt we have to go into the match against New Zealand on Friday giving our far best to stay in contention for a top-two finish .”
Earlier Mandeep Singh saved India the blushes with a hat-trick as the World No 6 came back twice to beat a disciplined Japan 4-3 in a nail-biting 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match today. India now moved third in the table standings with seven points – behind Australia and Great Britain and plays their last group match against host Malaysia on Friday. The last time India defeated Japan was at the Asian Champions Trophy in Kuantan in September 2016. India won 2-1. India trooped onto the field Japan without the experienced goalkeeper P. Sreejesh who suffered a tear to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in the 3-1 defeat against Australia on Tuesday. Sreejesh has been ruled out of the tournament and perhaps even the World League Semi-Finals in June. No 2 goalkeeper Akash Chikte is India’s only last man standing between the posts.
Six minutes into the game, it was India that made the first move against a disciplined Japan from a penalty corner and the towering Rupinder Pal Singh drove the ball to the top of net, beating goalkeeper Suguru Shimmoto, who has been playing exceptionally well in the last three matches. Japan, reeling second from bottom of the table standings with just one point, took control in the next moment keeping the Indian defenders busy and by the 10th minute was on level terms with a Kazuma Murata field goal. Masaki Ohashi was uncheck by two defenders and relayed the ball to Kazuma who faced no trouble in packing the ball past the young Akash as both teams ended the first half with the score tied1-1. But that was not the last from Japan as they surprised all by taking the lead for the first time against giants India in the 43rd minute from a Heita Yoshihara solo. Heita made a quick burst from the 25-yard line with India defenders hot on his heels and blasted the ball into goal to go 2-1 ahead for the first time.
The Indians were left in a state of shock and threw everything back. It took just two minutes after Heita’s goal for India to clock in the equaliser through Mandeep Singh from open play but the drama on the field exploded into another fire cracker with Japan pulling ahead 3-2 through Genki Mitani in a counter attack seconds before end of first half. The five-time champions were in deep trouble for the only the second time in the match and it took the genius of Mandeep to bail the Indians out of trouble water nine minutes to the end with a field goal. And just when everything was moving well for the Japanese who gave their best performance today, it was Mandeep who rode India out of trouble with a 58th minute field goal that broke Japan down for their third defeat in the tournament.
In the final match of the day, New Zealand showed good defensive skills to hold on to the solitary goal scored by Kane Russel in the 25th minute.
The win gives New Zealand an outside chance of making the final, provided they defeat Britain and hope that India drops points against Malaysia.
Photo Credits: Hockey India