Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh starred in front of the goal today to help India beat South Korea in the penalty shootout and set up a mouth-watering title clash against arch-rivals Pakistan in the fourth Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament, here.
Recovering from his ankle injury to play in today’s semi-final at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium, Sreejesh saved the South Korea’s last attempt to secure the hard-fought 5-4 win in the shootout after both the teams were locked 2-2 at the end of regulation time.
Sreejesh padded away the ball from the stick of Lee Dae-Yeol to clinch the victory and seal India’s place in tomorrow’s summit clash.
This is India’s third entry into the final of the Asian Champions Trophy, whose inaugural edition it won in 2011 and were runners up to Pakistan in 2012.
Later in the day, defending champions Pakistan avenged their loss to hosts Malaysia in the opening match when they prevailed 3-2 in the penalty shootout of the second semi-final after the regulation period ended in a 1-1 draw.
India had earlier defeated Pakistan 2-1 in the round-robin league stage of the tournament.
During regulation period, Malaysia opened the scoring in the 18th minute through a penalty corner conversion by Shahril Saabah, but Pakistan equalised through an open play goal by Abdul Khan in the 34th minute.
In the shootout, only the first two attempts for Malaysia by Firhan Ashari and and Faizal Saari were converted, while Faiz Jali, Shahril Saabah and Fitri Saari all faltered.
Only four shots were taken for Pakistan as Abdul Khan, Muhammad Ifran Jr and Muhammad Arslan Qadir shot on target, while only Muhammad Rizwan Sr failed on his attempt. As they had already taken a winning lead, the fifth Pakistan shot was not required.
Earlier, top-ranked India found the young Koreans tough opponents, who bounced back after conceding the initial lead and were in the lead briefly before India got the equaliser in regulation period.
Talwinder Singh gave India the initial lead with a field goal in the 15th minute, but the Koreans came back to score through Seo In-Woo’s strike in open play in the 21st and then took the lead from a penalty stroke conversion by Yang Ji-Hun in the 53rd.
The match went to shootout after Ramandeep Singh scored made it 2-2 for India in the 55th minute.
In the shootout, Sardar Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh and Akashdeep Singh duly scored the first four attempts before Birendra Lakra was obstructed and the resultant penalty stroke was converted by Rupinder to give India all five successful strikes in the shootout.
For South Korea, captain Jung Man-Jae, Kim Hyeong-Jin and Lee Jung-Jun faced no problem in converting their attempts. The fourth shot by Bae Jong-Suk was blocked by Sreejesh, but a penalty stroke was awarded for a stick-check by the Indian goalkeeper after Korea asked for a video referral and the resultant stroke was converted by Yang Ji-Hun.
It all came down to the last Korean shot and Sreejesh rose to the occasion to deny Lee Dae-Yeol to seal the affair.
During the match, India launched the first attack in the seventh minute as Talwinder moved into the circle from the left and tried a reverse shot to the far post, but the ball was intercepted by a defender to avert the danger.
The first Indian penalty corner came two minutes later, but Rupinder’s grounder posed no danger to the Korean goal.