Déjà vu of Guangzhou as India choke against Malaysia in hockey semis


Eight years ago, India were denied a place in the Asian Games men's hockey final in Guangzhou by a Razie Rahim penalty corner (PC) conversion. On Thursday, he came back to haunt India once again, his late equaliser forcing a shootout, which Malaysia went on to win 7-6 to beat Asia's top-ranked team to enter the final.

India, ranked fifth in the world, had scored 76 goals in the pool stages, and were favourites to progress. So what went wrong?

Sluggish defence

After easy wins against Indonesia, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, the lack of speed in the Indian defence was exposed to an extent by South Korea. But Malaysia were a different beast altogether, with the pace of their forwards like Faizal Saari, Fitri Saari, Shahril Saabah and Muhammad Firhan.

India should have seen it coming, with Firhan scoring a goal in the first quarter off a PC deflection, overturned because of a Saabah foot inside the circle. They couldn't quite close their gap in defence, especially in the fourth quarter, leading to the second big mistake in the match.

Losing shape when in control

The brain fade happened around the 45-minute mark, as Sardar Singh and Surender Kumar received yellow cards within the space of two minutes. Malaysia took full advantage, and as the clock had wound down to the last three minutes, they pulled goalkeeper Subramaniam off and inserted an extra outfield player. It proved crucial as an overburdened Indian defence made the fatal mistake of conceding the PC from which Razie scored. In a big match, India paid the price for allowing the control of the game to go to Malaysia, and that helped them go into the shootout with their spirits lifted.

Hesitation, and a bit of misfortune in shootout

Tengku Tajuddin was denied early by PR Sreejesh in the shootout, and both Faizal Saari and Azuan Hasan also missed their first attempts, but Subramaniam kept snapping at the heels of the Indian attackers during their attempts. Once the shootout went into sudden death, the Malaysian finishing stepped up a notch, reeling five goals on the bounce and asking India to chase each time.

India, in contrast, were always a little unsure of themselves, starting with Manpreet Singh's first attempt where he was deemed to have obstructed Subramaniam, and referred it to the TV umpire, only for the decision to be overturned. It seemed a harsh decision looking at the replays, because there seemed to be just as much of a shove from the goalkeeper as the Indian striker. India were a touch unlucky in the first attempt from Malaysia as well, as Firhan got the goal virtually with clock at 0.1s out of the stipulated eight.