Gold Coast [Australia], April 10 (ANI): After the Indian men's hockey team booked their spot in the semi-finals of the ongoing 21st Commonwealth Games, chief coach Sjoerd Marijne has said that his side have improved tremendously since their draw against arch-rivals Pakistan in the opening match.
The Men in Blue, who settled for a 2-2 draw against Pakistan in their first match, produced a spirited performance to edge past lower-ranked Malaysia 2-1 and seal the last-four spot.
Following the match, Marijne said that though he is happy to be on the winning side, he added that India still require improvement in certain areas.
"We are happy to be on the winning side. I think the team has improved since our first match against Pakistan. Though there are still certain areas we must get better with, this win will give the team a good momentum for the next match," stated Marijne.
India got off to an ideal start with forward Mandeep Singh winning the first penalty corner of the match in the second minute. Harmanpreet Singh came up with a perfect dragflick, improvising on the injection and keeping the ball low to his right to find the gap and fetch India an early 1-0 lead. Though Malaysia too won a penalty corner in the fifth minute Razie Rahim's flick was off the mark.
Malaysia made amends for a poor start as they converted a brilliant field goal through Faizal Saari in the opening minute of the second quarter. He almost had a free run with no Indian defender threatening him in the circle, though Sreejesh tackled him upfront, Saari had timed the release well enough to see it through and equalize 1-1.
India, meanwhile, opened their chances to score with Mandeep and Gurjant taking shots on goal in the 21st and 28th minutes respectively but were slightly off the mark while earlier Varun Kumar had missed an opportunity to convert India's second penalty corner.
India upped their attack in the third quarter, pushing for the elusive lead. After nearly five attempts at penalty corner this quarter between Indian drag-flickers Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh, the team eventually regained 2-1 lead in the 44th minute when Harmanpreet converted in his sixth attempt. This time, he found the top left corner of the post, giving little opportunity for Malaysian defenders to save. Earlier, Dilpreet Singh had a shot on goal but was saved by the Malaysian defence.
The contest continued to remain tense into the final quarter. With just a goal ahead, India threaded cautiously, keeping a close check on their defence while the forwards looked for a breakthrough. SV Sunil earned India just what they were looking for - a penalty corner in the 57th minute. But an alert Malaysian goalkeeper came up with a brilliant save to keep Harmanpreet Singh from converting a hat-trick. However, India held on to the lead and eventually won their second successive match in Pool B.
With two successive wins against Wales (4-3) and Malaysia (2-1), India have topped the table with seven points. They will now play against England in their final Pool B match on Wednesday.
"Again, it's not about the opponents but our own game. I am yet to see this team come up with a 7/10 performance in this tournament. If each of them manage to play their role to perfection, I am confident of a good show against England," Marijne stated.
As the prestigious quadrennial Games entered sixth day today, India will aim to add more medals to their tally which currently stands at 19 medals including 10 gold, four silver and five bronze. (ANI)