Kuantan: Starting with a rousing win over Japan in their opening outing of the fourth Asian Champions Trophy, India are looking for variations beyond ace shooter Rupinder Pal Singh’s penalty corner flicks when they take on South Korea here on Saturday.
Bracing for tougher matches against former Asian champions South Korea and arch sub-continental hockey rivals Pakistan over the next two days, the Indians are pleased with the goal-scoring prowess exhibited in the 10-2 win over Japan.
Penalty corner variations are on the mind of coach Roelant Oltmans, whose choice of players for this first tournament after the Olympic Games was restricted due to the V.R. Raghunath’s injury and the absence of young shooter Harmanpreet Singh, who is preparing for Junior World Cup to be hosted by India in December.
Jasjeet Singh Kular, recalled to the squad after missing the Olympics, is the other main option available to the coach, but he did not come into the frame often in the first outing, primarily because Rupinder was on fire scoring as many as six goals.
"It wasn’t that we were only looking for goals from Rupinder on Thursday," said coach Oltmans.
"We tried some variations also, but could not match Rupinder’s precise shooting."
"We have some ideas for future games and they go beyond Rupinder’s flicks. On Thursday, the ball was coming slow for Jasjit, but we still tried some variations," Oltmans said.
There was a heavy downpour ahead of the Indian match against Japan last evening, which even interrupted the previous match between hosts Malaysia and Pakistan.
Rupinder converted his initial four penalty corner shots in the first 19 minutes of play and then came back to add two more goals to his name.
This was the first time Rupinder has scored six goals in an international fixture and is eager to boost his tally in the forthcoming matches.
He was already India’s highest goal-scorer this year and these six goals took his tally to 13 goals from 21 matches in 2016, which include two from penalty strokes.
Pakistan bounce back
Meanwhile, Pakistan clinched a 1-0 victory through a last-minute penalty corner goal from Abdul Khan in the round-robin league encounter against South Korea on Friday.
A last-gasp Korean attempt to exert pressure on the rival citadel led to a Pakistan counter-attack that earned them a penalty corner with just 28 seconds left for the hooter.
Abdul was allowed space by the Korean defenders to take a step forward and sent in a low shot that went through a few sticks to sound the boards and spark celebrations in the Pakistan team.
The Koreans dominated the possession but failed to convert it into goals and even muffed six penalty corners.
Having lost their opening match to Malaysia 2-4 on Thursday, Pakistan were desperate for three points from this game.
Pakistan coach Khawaja Junaid was delighted at the turn of events and praised his players for maintaining structure in their game even when under persistent pressure from the Koreans.
"The Koreans were everywhere and they built a lot of pressure on us, but the boys did well to defend stoutly and keep the structure," Junaid said.
South Korea team coach Paul Lissek expressed his annoyance at the award of the penalty corner, but said his players should not have been too ambitious in the last minute.
Lissek said there was a lot his young side could do in this tournament, despite losing the first outing through a last minute goal.
"Inexperience cost us this game, but we have a lot to play for," said Lissek, asserting that his boys would give India a tough contest on Saturday.
"India are a good side and we must look to capitalise on our chances. We lost 1-2 to India in the Champions Trophy in London earlier this year," said Lissek.
In another match, hosts Malaysia outplayed China 5-1 for their second successive victory and climbed to the top spot in the round-robin league standings after two days with a maximum six points.
China's failure to defend against Malaysian penalty corners was the key element of the contest as four of the Malaysian goals came from penalty corners.
Haziq Samsul twice capitalised on penalty corner rebounds (in the sixth and 20th minutes), while Shahril Saabah did so in the 37th. Only Firhan Ashari capitalised with a direct penalty corner shot for Malaysia in the 54th minute.
The lone field goal for the hosts came through Fitri Saari in the 22nd minute, while China salvaged some pride through an open play strike by Wang Bo Wen in the 33rd minute.