Chennai: Having struggled to make a mark in the event so far, seasoned forward Akashdeep Singh scored when it mattered as India fought back brilliantly from a two-goal deficit to beat Malaysia 4-3 in a high-octane final to bag the Asian Champions Trophy title for a record-breaking fourth time here on Saturday.
This is India's fourth title in the event as they broke the record of three titles (two outright and one shared) with archrivals Pakistan, becoming the most successful team in the event. India had previously won the title in the inaugural year in 2011 and then in 2016. In 2018, they had shared the title with Pakistan in Muscat, Oman as the match was rained off.
However, on Saturday, the hosts looked in trouble for some time before they fought back to seal a memorable victory, which is a big boost to the team's morale ahead of the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
Jugraj Singh (9'), Harmanpreet Singh (45'), Gurjant Singh (45') and Akashdeep Singh (56') scored in India's victory. For Malaysia, Abu Kamal Azrai (14'), Razie Rahim (18') and Aminudin Muhamad (28') scored to keep them in the title hunt.
India, who took the lead in the ninth minute through a penalty corner, committed a few defensive errors as Malaysia came back to not only level scores but go ahead 3-1.
There was plenty of action in the first quarter with both teams living up to the billing, producing thrilling hockey. India, who came into the final after a convincing 5-0 win against Japan in the semifinal, was quick to take a 1-0 lead when Jugraj Singh flicked at lightning speed to the left corner.
But a spirited Malaysian team was quick to respond when Azuan Hasan tackled Indian defenders in the right flank to enter the circle. His goal attempt needed a faint deflection by Abu Kamal Azrai to put it past the Indian goalie.
With scores levelled, the second quarter was exhilarating. Malaysia shifted gears, to put India under pressure with two goals in this quarter.
Their second goal came off a PC in the 18th minute, through a combined effort by trapper Shello Silverius and flicker Razie Rahim. The Malaysians stunned the hosts with a third goal in the 28th minute when Muhamad Aminudin scored from a fine PC as Malaysia led 3-1 at half-time.
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Though the Indian side began the third quarter on an attacking note and earned a penalty corner, a goal continued to elude them despite some sustained attacks till the 45th.
But just when Malaysia were looking forward to claiming their maiden Asian Champions Trophy title, India came roaring back to score twice within a few seconds to level the scores.
India made it 2-3 off a superb field goal when Sukhjeet Singh, who was set up by Nilkanta Singh after a quick exchange of passes to break the defence, was tripped inside the circle, earning India a penalty stroke. Skipper Harmanpreet Singh, the top scorer of the tournament with eight goals, stepped up and flicked a high shot into the net to bring India back into the game.
The comeback was complete seconds later when Gurjant levelled scores, off a pass by Harmanpreet Singh, capitalising on a mistake by a rattled Malaysian defence, tapping in a field goal to make it 3-3.
Though both teams created several chances in the last moments, it was India who held their nerves.
Akashdeep scored the winner five minutes from the end of the match in a pulsating fourth quarter to seal a memorable victory for India.
Sukhjeet Singh who win the ball high on the pitch, played it to Mandeep Singh who in turn set up Akashdeep. His trademark big hit from the top of the circle in the 56th minute meant the team only had to defend the 4-3 lead for the next four minutes and they did just that.