India underlined their continental supremacy as they overcame a fighting Malaysia 2-1 in the final in Dhaka to win the Asia Cup hockey championship for the third time.
Ramandeep Singh (third minute) and Lalit Upadhyay (29th) scored for the 2014 Asian Games gold medallists India. Shahril Saabah (50th minute) scored the reducer for Malaysia, forcing India to defend their territory for the nervous late moments of the game. India's previous two titles came in 2003 and 2007. The five-time runners-up seemed determined against Malaysia, who reached the Asia Cup final for the first time.
India got off to a dream start when SK Uthappa made a long pass from the left. At the left post, an unmarked Ramandeep tapped the ball onto the bar. When it rebounded, he didn't miss, giving India an early advantage. The pace of Indian forwards created trouble for the Malaysians, who were pegged back in their half. Malaysia responded by winning a penalty corner in the 13th minute but Indian goalkeeper Suraj Kerkera was alert.
India pressed high and earned two penalty corners in the 19th and 26th minutes but the flicks from Harmanpreet Singh couldn't trouble Malaysian custodian Kumar Subramaniam and the defenders. However, the intense play helped India win a second goal as a Gurjant Singh cross from the left was deflected home by Lalit. A handsome 2-0 lead at half-time triggered social media speculation that the Indian team, coached by Sjoerd Marijne, would again thrash Malaysia like in an earlier game.
India, Asia's top-ranked side, controlled the game in the third and penultimate quarter, creating many chances to extend their domination. In the 34th minute, India could have made it 3-0 but Gurjant, fed by a pacy Ramandeep, was denied by a diving Subramaniam. India got further chances to extend the scoreline. Lalit hit wide in the 40th minute while Ramandeep failed to connect a cross from the right the next minute.
A stunned Malaysia began foraying into the Indian defence in the fourth quarter. A defensive lapse from Sardar Singh let Shahril drive past Indian keeper Suraj in the 50th minute to reduce the margin — and to open up the contest. A desperate Malaysia employed long balls to Indian box and suddenly the Indians came under pressure. They conceded two penalty corners but Razie Rahim's flicks were not good enough.
India survived some anxious moments towards the close but they held on to the 2-1 scoreline before celebrations erupted in their camp at the Maulana Bhasani Hockey Stadium.
With inputs from IANS.