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India regains Sultan Azlan Shah Cup
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[Image: 1oqam9.jpg]
A LONG WAIT ENDS: India’s team members celebrate after winning the final against Malaysia at Ipoh.

IPOH: With a display that underlined the efficacy and elegance of frontline forays, India regained the glittering Sultan Azlan Shah Cup after a hiatus of 13 years with a 3-1 victory over Malaysia amidst a festival ambience in the international hockey tournament here on Sunday. The winner led 2-1 at halftime.

This was India’s fourth cup win, the three others coming in 1985, 1991 and in 1995.

Commendable as the functioning of the forward-line was, India for once did not depend on the proficiency of Sandeep Singh in penalty corners. In fact, India had just a solitary penalty corner in the encounter.

To pick one forward for special tribute would be invidious but suffice it to say the whole attack bristled with life throughout, supported adequately by the mid-field where Gurbaj Singh, Ignace Tirkey and Prabodh Singh were prominent.

Territorial advantage

Initially, it was Malaysia that had the territorial advantage. Fresh and fluent, the Malaysian forwards headed by Nabli from the left kept the Indian defenders under tremendous pressure.

However, the good work of Dilip Tirkey and Sandeep Singh, not to forget the alacrity of goalkeeper Baljit Singh, smothered the enterprising attacks.

But it was becoming transparent that the Indian attack was gaining ascendancy. Striking rhythm, the frontline, with Tushar Khandekar supported admirably by Arjun Halappa, began asserting itself.

A well threaded move involving Tushar and Prabhjot Singh culminated in Halappa netting the lead. But the joy did not last long as Aslan Misron levelled from a goalmouth skirmish.

Midway through, India surged again from a move initiated by Ignace Tirkey picked up by Gurbaj and the final touches came from Prabhjot Singh. Minutes later, Prabhjot Singh essayed a withering shot only to see the ball miss the goal by a whisker.

Enlarging the lead

Soon after the break, India enlarged the lead from a set move by Halappa and Shivendra slammed in the rebound to give India what looked an unassailable lead.

True, in the final quarter, the Malaysians ventured to escalate pressure but goalkeeper Baljit Singh saved more than one attempt to keep the leeway intact.

Coach Harendra Singh described the victory as a great boost to the game and the target now was to get into the top six or seven after the Asia Cup next month.

Praise for Ignace

He gave full credit to the players and had a special word of appreciation for Ignace Tirkey. “He changed the whole game in favour of us,” he declared. The Kiwis, who won the third spot last year, retained it with a 2-1 victory over Pakistan. All the three goals came in the first half.

Pakistan did make valiant attempts in the second half to accelerate the pace but the Kiwi defenders managed to smother whatever danger striker Shakeel Abbasi posed.

Sultan Azlan Shah, President, Asian Hockey Federation, gave away the prizes.

The results:

Final: India 3 (Arjun Halappa, Prabhjot Singh, Shivendra Singh) beat Malaysia 1 (Aslam Misron).

Third-fourth places: New Zealand 2 (Richard Patherick, Joel Baker) beat Pakistan 1 (Shakeel Abbasi).

Final positions: 1. India, 2. Malaysia, 3. New Zealand, 4. Pakistan 5. Egypt.

Player of the tournament: Sandeep Singh (India).

Man of the match: Arjun Halappa.

Best Goalkeeper: Kumar Subramaniam (Malaysia).

Top goal-scorer: Sandeep Singh (India).

Fairplay award: New Zealand.

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