MUSCAT, October 27: Defending champions India and two-time winners Pakistan will meet in the title encounter of the Hero Asian Champions Trophy Muscat 2018 at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex here on Sunday.
Pakistan entered the final overcoming Malaysia 3-1 in the shootout after a 4-4 deadlock in the regulation period, while India had to work hard for a 3-2 victory over Asian Games gold medallists Japan in the other semi-final.
Leading 4-1 at half-time, Pakistan faced a late rally from Malaysia, who equalized with four minutes from the end to take the issue into the shootout. Pakistan scored thrice in their five shootout attempts, while Malaysia could only shoot on target once in four attempts. The fifth Malaysian shot was not required to be taken as Pakistan had gained a winning lead.
Penalty corner flicker Aleem Bilal (12th and 20th minutes) twice sent soaring drag-flicks into the net, while Muhammad Irfan Jr. (sixth minute) and Abu Mahmood (15th minute) scored a goal each in open play go give Pakistan a big lead at half-time.
Some defensive lapses by Pakistan against the fast-moving Malaysian allowed space for Malaysia to score two field goals in the space of one minute. Tengku Tajuddin capitalized on a rebound in the 43rd minute and Aiman Nik Rozemi was on target off a short pass within a minute.
Faizal Saari, who had given Malaysia the initial lead in the second minute, came back to convert a penalty corner in the 56th minute to make it 4-4. Saari had opened the scoring in the second minute when he capped his fine solo run with a flick that beat onrushing goalkeeper Imran Butt to sound the boards.
Muhammad Irfan Jr. equalized for Pakistan in the sixth minute when he received a fine cross from Ajaz Ahmad in the goalmouth and made no mistake in deflecting it into the goal.
Bilal converted Pakistan’s first penalty corner with a rasping drag-flick into the net in the 12th minute and Abu Mehmood beat the goalkeeper with a powerful reverse shot from the top of the circle in the 15th minute to make it 3-1 in the first quarter.
Bilal got into goal-scoring action again in the 20th minute with a penalty corner flick into the net to boost Pakistan’s lead, but the drama was to unfold when Malaysia came back strongly in the second half.
In the shootout, Toseeq Abbas and Ammad Butt scored with their shots, while Abu Mahmood was obstructed by the Malaysian goalkeeper and led to a penalty stroke that was converted by Bilal. Ajaz Ahmad and Muhammad Irfan Jr missed on their attempts.
For Malaysia, only Aiman Nik Rozemi was able to score, but Firhan Ashari, Faizal Saari and Shahril Saabah faltered in the shootout.
Field goals from Gurjant Singh and Dilpreet Singh and a set-piece penalty corner strike by Chinglensana Singh helped India overcome hard-working Japan.
After losing their preliminary league encounter to India 9-0, Japan had promised to give India a tough game if the teams met again in the tournament. Asian Games gold medallists Japan, who have inducted several young players for this tournament, lived up to their promise.
After a goalless first quarter, Gurjant Singh gave India the initial lead in the 19th minute by sending a fine reverse flick on target.
Japan equalized with a set-piece penalty corner attempt that saw Hirotaka Wakuri deflecting the penalty corner drive into the boards in the 22nd minute.
Finding Japan crowding their territory, India were not able to find solutions to breach the defense again until the 44th minute when Varun Kumar’s penalty corner shot was deflected into the net by Chinglensana.
Dilpreet Singh increased the lead in the 55th minute by shooting on target in a crowded circle, but only to see Japan bounce back with another penalty corner conversion from Hirotaka Zendana in the next minute.
The Indian defense then held its ground for the last four minute to secure entry into the final.