Malaysia settle for draw against Japan in opener

That’s mine: Malaysia’s Fitri Saari (left) vying for the ball with Japan’s Genki Mitani in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match in Ipoh yesterday. — RONNIE CHIN/The Star

IPOH: Malaysia failed to get off with a winning start as they were held to a 1-1 draw by gritty Japan in their opening match of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Malaysia were a stronger side in the early part of the game but had to stave off a fierce fightback from the Japanese to settle for a draw at the Azlan Shah Stadium.

It was the third draw of the day as all three matches ended in a stalemate.

It was a great start for Malaysia as they struck the opening goal just after eight minutes through a penalty corner by Mohamed Razie Rahim.

Two minutes later the Japanese had two penalty corners in a row but the attempts were well foiled by Malaysia.

As the match wore on, the Japanese grew stronger and more confident with their moves.

In the 40th minute they had their third penalty corner and Shota Yamada’s hefty flick was deflected into goal by a Malaysia defender.

Malaysia counter-attacked immediately after the equaliser and earned their second penalty corner but this time the Japanese were alert enough to stop it.

In the earlier match, defending champions Australia could only manage a 1-1 draw with New Zealand.

World No. 2 Australia, a record nine-time champions, snatched the lead in the 32nd minute through a field goal by Tom Craig at the Azlan Shah Stadium.

But New Zealand, the 2012 and 2015 winners, managed to equalise in the 52nd minute through Dominic Newman.

Earlier, five-time champions India also began their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Britain.

The scheduled 4.05pm match was delayed by more than two hours due to a heavy downpour, forcing the organisers to push back all the starting time of the opening day’s three matches.

The last time India and Britain met was at the Champions Trophy in London last year with India winning 2-1.

After a drab start, it was Britain who made the first significant attack. But India goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh was alert enough to deny Henry Weir from scoring with a reverse stick shot in the 10th minute.

Britain goalkeeper Harry Gibson also did well a minute later to deny India from scoring from a quick counter-attack.

World No. 6 India, however, were not to be denied in the 19th minute after earning their first penalty corner. Akashdeep Singh made no mistake, pouncing on a rebound to slot the ball past Gibson.

Britain, ranked seventh in the world, did not have to wait long to find the equaliser.

In the 25th minute, Willars Ollie weaved his way past two defenders and unselfishly relayed the ball to Tom Carson to blast the ball past Sreejesh.

The Indians went 2-1 ahead in the 47th minute when Manpreet Singh scored a field goal.

But Britain were back on level terms again after Alan Forsyth scored an opportunistic goal in the 52nd minute.

Indian coach Roelant Oltmans was not disheartened by the draw.

“The opening match is always tough. And obviously playing in Malaysia, we (all the teams) have to be prepared for the weather and the long delay. It did not affect our momentum,” said the Dutchman.

“Today was our first competitive match since November. We hope to play much better in the coming matches.

“My only disappointment is we did not make good use of our chances and only earned one penalty corner throughout the match,” added Oltmans.

Britain coach Bobby Crutchley was happy with the point.

“We played pretty well and did not give India much space to move the ball. It was a very tight game and I’m happy with the way the players came back after going down twice,” said Crutchley.

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