NEW DELHI - India suffered a massive blow in their quest for direct entry in the hockey World Cup after losing 3-4 to South Korea in the final of the ninth Asia Cup.
Malaysia will go through to the quadrennial event after India's defeat and Sardar Singh's team will have to wait for the Oceania championship to finish in October-November.
Korea got off to a great start when they scored two goals in quick succession. Jang Jong Hyun converted the penalty corner in 28th minute and soon after You Hyo Sik scored a field goal to leave the Indians trailing 0-2. In the second half, Rupinderpal Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah helped India level the game before Korea were given a penalty stroke which was converted by Nam Hyun Woo.
But the match went to the wire as Mandeep kept India in hunt after scoring an excellent field goal with five minutes to go in the match. However, India lost the plot in the end when Korea managed to score the winning goal in the dying minutes of the match to lift the coveted title.
Already out of next year's World Cup, Pakistan had something to cheer about as the three-time champions defeated hosts Malaysia 3-1 to win the bronze medal.
Pakistan, who needed to win the Asia Cup to qualify for next year's World Cup at The Hague, Netherlands, dished out a spirited performance to prevail over the erring Malaysians.
Pakistan, who will miss the World Cup for the first time since the introduction of the event in 1971, scored through a brace from Abdul Haseem Khan (35th, 56th) and skipper M Imran (54th) to register the victory in the third-fourth place play-off match at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium. For Malaysia, Faizal Saari scored the lone goal in the 34th minute. It was a chance for Malaysia to avenge their 1-4 defeat at the hands of the same opponents in the pool stages but they let the opportunity slip because of their own mistakes. Played under heavy weather conditions, at least the first half, the bronze medal play-off match between Pakistan and hosts Malaysia was a keenly-contested battle.
Pakistan had a close shave in the opening minute of the match when M Razie Abd Rahim's high flick from Malaysia's first penalty corner hit the cross bar. Minutes later veteran Shakeel Abbasi's weak shot from close range was easily blocked by Malaysia goalkeeper Roslan Jamaluddin.
Thereafter, Pakistan earned three penalty corners but failed to convert a single one on a turf that had become heavy because of continuous downpour. After failing to make use of their second penalty corner, Malaysia broke the deadlock in the 34th minute through Saari, who had to dive full length to connect to a Jivan Mohan's pass past Pakistani goalkeeper Salman Akbar.
Malaysia's joy was shortlived as Pakistan drew parity seven seconds from halftime. A clever scoop from captain Muhammad Imran found Abdul Haseem Khan alone inside the hosts' circle and the striker beautifully controlled the ball to push it past Jamaluddin to go into the breather locked at one apiece.
As the rain subsided, Pakistan slowly started to get their act together after the change of ends and dominated the share of exchanges. On the other hand, just like the semifinal against India, missed chances continued to haunt the Malaysians even today. The hosts made some good moves but once inside the opposition circle, they seemed to run out of ideas and waste easy chances. Pakistan dealt a second blow on the erring Malaysians when skipper Imran converted the team's fifth penalty corner in the 54th minute.
Two minutes later, Pakistan jolted the home team again when Abdul Haseem Khan scored his second goal of the day, deflecting in a pass from M Tousiq. Pakistan too has to thank their experienced goalkeeper Salman who made a couple of brilliant saves in the last 10 minutes of the game to deny any further inroads to the Malaysians.
An agile Salman made a fine double save in the 61st minute to deny Mohd Fitri Saari and Jivan Mohan. In search of goals, Malaysia put the Pakistan defence under constant pressure and earned three more penalty corners in the last seven minutes of the game but their drag flick specialist M Razie lacked precision.