India have climbed to the top of the Asian Champions Trophy table with a resounding 5-0 win over Malaysia on Sunday at the Mayor Radhakrishnan stadium, Chennai. Local boy Selvam Karthi opened the scoring in the first half before India turned on the style in the second with Hardik Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Gurjant Singh, and Jugraj Singh joining Karthi on the scoresheet.
The result sees India go atop with seven points in three games, with Malaysia behind them on six points in three. Defending champions South Korea are third with four points in three after they were held to a 1-1 draw by sixth (and bottom) placed China earlier in the day. Japan and Pakistan remained fourth and fifth (on two points each) after playing out an entertaining, end-to-end 3-3 draw.
In the main event of the night (for the partisan Chennai crowd), India and Malaysia started tentatively, both testing each other's midfield strengths before with 33 seconds to go, Harmanpreet Singh dragged a sensational long ball straight to Karthi at the edge of the Malaysian circle. With a sure touch, Karthi set himself up and reversed a powerful hit into the bottom near corner of the Malaysian goal.
Despite the goal advantage, the second quarter played out much like the first for India as they prodded and poked at a pretty slow tempo against a Malaysian team content to sit back and attempt a counter. India won their first penalty corner in the 24th minute - quite late for a team that depends on its PC battery for goals. That PC led to another, but Harmanpreet's rushed attempt went wide after a poor push In from Shamsher Singh. The quarter petered out without much incident, India holding onto their 1-0 lead.
Craig Fulton, head coach of India, would tell the broadcasters at halftime that he wanted his team to move the ball much quicker and that he was confident they'd get another goal.
They would do that very early on in the third quarter - two minutes in, in fact. India won a penalty corner after Harmanpreet sent a long crossfield into the circle, where the defender not realizing Hardik was waiting to trap the ball behind closed in too much and was penalised. Harmanpreet's initial dragflick was saved, but Hardik was alive to the rebound and squeezed in the rebound from an acute angle.
India conceded two yellows in quick succession - for two minutes both Nilakanta Sharma and Vivek Sagar Prasad were off the field - but Malaysia couldn't take advantage. They earned their first, and only, PC in the 36th minute and appeared to have converted it; only for the goal to be ruled out due to dangerous play. The dragflick had gone above the first rusher's knee-height.
India made it three just three minutes before the break. A series of PCs were won, and on the third consecutive attempt, Harmanpreet smashed one low to his right, where it bounced off the stick of the defender on the post and into the goal.
By the start of the final quarter, the result of the match had been decided, and it was just the margin that remained a question. Gurjant Singh made it four after he cleverly stuck out a stick to deflect Mandeep Singh's tomahawk (which was probably going in by itself) into the goal. With just six minutes to go, Jugraj made it five with a powerful dragflick that smashed the keeper on his left glove and bounced into the roof of the net.
After the match, Fulton said that this performance was down to fitness standards finally being back up after their European tour the previous month.
India now play South Korea on Monday, August 7 at 8.30 PM before wrapping up the group stage on August 9 against Pakistan.