In a heartbreaking end to their first tournament of the season, the Indian men’s hockey team lost 2-4 via penalty shootout to South Korea in the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on Saturday. With this, five-time champions India – who were leading 1-0 until the last 13 minutes of the game – failed to end their 9-year drought at the hockey tournament W no. 5 India were clear favourites to lift their sixth Azlan Shah title against the 17th ranked Koreans.
And the Indians started in the right earnest, taking the lead early through Simranjeet Singh's field strike in the ninth minute. The Koreans, thereafter, kept the Indian forward line under tight vigil, while also pressing hard in search of the equaliser. Korea's efforts finally paid dividend in the 47th minute when they were awarded a penalty stroke. The Indians went for the video referral but the penalty decision stayed and Jang Jong Hyun made no mistake in drawing parity for his side.
Two minutes from the hooter, India earned a penalty corner but to no avail as the match went into shoot-out. In the shoot-out, the Indians missed their first, fourth and fifth attempts and converted just two, while the Koreans just missed their third strike to win the thrilling contest 4-2 and lift the crown for the third time in the history of the invitational tournament.
For India, Mandeep Singh, Sumit Kumar Junior and Sumit missed from the one-on-one penalty shoot-out situation, while experienced Birendra Lakra and Varun Kumar, converted their chances. Defending the goal in the shoot-out for India was young Kishan B Pathak in place of experienced PR Sreejesh.
In the shoot-out, Jii Woo Cheon, Lee Jungjun, Jung Manjae and Lee Namyong scored for Korea. The Indians were undone by missed opportunities as they created numerous scoring chances but failed to utilise them. Though India made a couple of circle entries in quick-succession early in the game, the Korean defence was a tough nut to crack. It took accurate, short passes and effective teamwork by forwards Mandeep Singh and Sumit Kumar (Junior) that won India a brilliant opportunity to score in the first quarter. A quick assist by Sumit Kumar Junior to Simranjeet earned India it's first goal in the ninth minute.
Korea upped their ante as they made two good circle entries but an alert Indian defence thwarted the chances. With less than a minute remaining for the first hooter, Gurinder Singh earned India's first penalty corner but the dragflicker could not get it past the Korean defenders.