Johor Bahru (Malaysia): The Indian men's Under-21 hockey team defeated hosts Malaysia 4-2 in their fourth pool match of the fourth Sultan of Johor Cup at Taman Daya Hockey Stadium here Thursday.
Defending champions India rode on drag-flick specialist Harmanpreet Singh's hat-trick and Varun Kumar's penalty stroke conversion to register their third victory in four matches and put themselves in a good position to make the final.
India peppered the Malaysian defence early and got three back-to-back penalty corners and it was in the third attempt that Harmanpreet scored the first goal (25th minute).
A quick goal followed in succession when Harmanpreet swiftly utilised another penalty corner and the ball sailed past the Malaysian keeper.
Malaysia earned a penalty corner twice during the initial half but failed to convert them. The score stood at 2-0 at the end of half time.
However, the second half saw a change of course as Muhd. Rohulami scored the first goal for Malaysia (37th) and Azril Misron posted another field goal (42nd), levelling the tally and signalling a vital comeback for the hosts.
Alarmed at the quick progression of their opponents, India fought hard to retaliate when they gained a penalty corner. Harmanpreet took the strike and converted the opportunity, taking the score to 3-2 and score his hat-trick.
In the 65th minute, Varun made no mistake in converting a penalty stroke, doubling the score for India.
“I am extremely pleased to see the way the boys have performed. Starting off well, they conceded two quick goals in the second half but did not allow pressure to take hold of them and remained calm," India coach Harendra Singh said.
"This composure helped the boys to make a brilliant comeback, the result of which is this well deserved win for them. I am proud of the way they handled the stressful situation and look forward to similar performances in future.”
India will now take on Australia in their fifth and last pool match Oct 18.