MUSCAT, October 25: Muhammad Irfan Jr’s goal clinched former champions Pakistan a 1-0 victory over Malaysia in the Hero Asian Champions Trophy Muscat 2018 on Thursday.
After several missed opportunities, Irfan Jr settled the fate of the contest when he collected Ajaz Ahmad’s cross from the left in the goalmouth and duly flicked the ball into the open citadel as the Malaysian goalkeeper was beaten by the cross.
The victory secured Pakistan the second position in the league standings. India topped the standings with 13 points, followed by Pakistan and Malaysia, both of whom finished on 10 points, but Pakistan had a superior goal difference than Malaysia.
Pakistan and Asian Games silver medallists Malaysia will meet again in the semi-finals on Saturday while defending champions India will take on Asian Games gold medallists Japan.
Japan warmed up for the semi-finals with a 5-0 triumph over host Oman, whose squad was reduced to 15 players due to injuries.
Japan finished with seven points from five outings.
In a match that features several missed chances, Malaysia had the first good shy at the goal in the ninth minute when Marhan Jalil collected a ball kicked by Pakistan goalkeeper Imran Butt on top of the circle. Jalil sent a firm shot, but Butt recovered his composure to effect a fine save.
Pakistan suffered a setback when their captain, Muhammad Rizwan Sr limped off the pitch with a hamstring injury and did not play any more role in the game.
Pakistan’s lone penalty corner came in the 46th minute, but Aleem Bilal could not capitalize on it as the goalkeeper padded the ball away.
With just seven minutes left, Irfan Jr trapped the cross from Ahmad that produced the match-winner. Pakistan’s manager, Hasan Sardar said the three points should raise the morale of the team. “We could have scored more goals, but a victory is a victory,” said Sardar.
“It was important for the boys to taste victory against the opponent whom we will face again in the semi-finals two days later,” he said.
Roelant Oltmans, coach of the Malaysian team, said, “We too had our chances, but the chance taken by a team proved decisive.”
Japan was kept at bay by the Oman defense until the 14th minute before Koji Yamasaki opened the scoring.
The Japanese showcased their dribbles and passing, but the next goal only came in the 33rd minute through Wataru Matsumoto. Five minutes later, Kazumasa Matsumoto shot on target to make it 3-0.
The last two goals came within the space of one minute. In the 45th minute, Hiromasa Ochiai first scored in open play and then Hirotaka Zendana converted a penalty corner.
Japan’s coach, Siegfried Aikman said finding a way through Oman’s defense was not easy. “It was a difficult match because Oman defended deep inside their own territory, he said.
Tahir Zaman, coach of the Oman team, said injuries had hurt his side.
“We were down to 15 players due to injuries, but a bigger problem was that all the three injured players were strikers,” said Zaman.
“To replace them up front, we had to pull players from the midfielders and defenders, When we did that, the team lost its defensive structure,” he said.