Muscat, October 19: Two-time winners Pakistan began their Hero Asian Champions Trophy Muscat 2018 campaign with a 3-1 victory over South Korea, while Asian Games silver medallists Malaysia had to work hard for their 3-1 victory over a fighting Oman at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex here today.
Posting their second win on successive days, Malaysia top the league table of the six-nation competition, whose showpiece fixture pits defending champions India against Pakistan tomorrow. Goals form Ajaz Ahmed (12th minute), Umar Bhutta (18th) and captain Muhammad Rizwan Senior (42nd) gave Pakistan a firm grip despite missing several chances before South Korea pulled one back in the last quarter through Kim Hyeong-Jin (51st).
Bhutta featured in the first two goals. He set up the opening goal with a square pass inside the circle for Ajaz to shoot in. Six minutes later, Bhutta picked up a rebound from the goalkeeper and flicked it into the net.
Leading from the front, captain Rizwan Senior exchanged two short passes on the left flank before shooting on target. He was adjudged Hero Player of The Match. A defensive lapse by Pakistan allowed Korea to pull a goal back late in the match.
Gaining maximum three points, Pakistan now looks forward to the key sub-continental encounter against defending champions India tomorrow, which captain Rizwan said would be a close encounter between two attacking sides. “It is nice to start with three points. Winning this match was important before we go into the game against India,” said Rizwan.
It will be the first encounter between the two teams since the bronze medal contest in the Asian Games in Jakarta. The Asian Games were a big disappointment to both these teams. India had won the playoff between the losing semi-finalists to claim the bronze medal.
After denying Asian Games silver medallists Malaysia in the first quarter, a defensive error by Oman enabled Malaysia to take the initial lead in the 22nd minute through Firhan Ashari.
An outstanding performance under the bar by Oman’s goalkeeper Fahad Al Noufali, who was adjudged Hero Player of the Match, defied Malaysia, while Oman equalized through a penalty stroke conversion by Rashad Al Fazari in the 34th minute.
Tengku Tajuddin made Oman pay for permitting him time and space on top of the circle in the 46th minute as he sent a firm reverse shot into the boards for Malaysia to regain the lead. Two minutes later, a through ball from Joel van Huizen was deflected into the left corner of the goal by Faizal Saari.
Oman’s goalkeeper made a few good saves to deny Malaysia any more goals, while two opportunistic shots from Omani strikers went wide of the target at the other end.
“We were a bit sloppy today, but it is better now than in the semi-finals,” said Malaysia coach Roelant Oltmans. “Our strikers were not as sharp as expected, but the Omani goalkeeper made some very good saves.”
Oman’s coach Tahir Zaman complimented his players for raising their game to a competitive level after losing to India in the opening outing yesterday. “It was a morale booster for Oman’s hockey fraternity to see them play a very competitive match against Malaysia,” said Zaman, whose team comprises entire of amateur players.