Defending champions Great Britain will take on India in the final of the edition of the Sultan of Johor Cup Under-21 Invitational tournament at the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium in Johor Bahru on Saturday.
Both teams battled to a thrilling 3-3 draw in their final round-robin match on Friday with India staging a magnificent fightback from 2-0 down to draw level at 2-2 and then taking a 3-2 lead, only for Britain to salvage a draw with a late equalizer.
Both teams finished with 10 points each but India topped the table on goal difference.
It will be a repeat of last year’s final when Britain beat the Indians 3-2 in a thrilling final. Both teams have won the majestic silverware twice. India won in 2013 and Britain triumphed in 2015 and last year.
Interestingly it will be India’s sixth final in the six-nation tournament since it was incepted in 2011 when Malaysia became the first holders of the Sultan of Johor Cup, beating Australia 3-2 in the final. Britain will be featuring in their fifth final.
The winners tomorrow will also write history in the tournament as the first team to win the title three times.
India coach B. J. Kariappa is confident that his team will return home with the title although last year’s defeat “still haunts” India.
“We need to take chances. Today we showed qualities in the last quarter and it was a confident performance from the players,” said Kariappa who took over the reins after Jude Felix was sacked as the juniors coach following India’s disastrous outing in an eight-nation tournament in Spain.
His British counterpart Jon Bleby said the final will be a “50-50 affair’ but is equally confident of retaining the title.
“We have a relatively young team and the experience of playing in the final is ‘priceless’ for the players…something you cannot replicate in training. We need to have a good strategy to beat the Indians,” said Bleby.
“SOJC is a fantastic tournament. We love this tournament and we will certainly love to come to play next year even if it is held earlier.”
India gave some of their reserves a chance in the tournament but they were not up to the mark. The Indian team fell 2-0 behind to goals by Ioan Wall (27th) and Andrew McDonnell (32nd).
Shilanand Lakra reduced the deficit in the 48th minute before skipper Mandeep Mor equalized three minutes later. Sharda Nand Tiwari fired India in front of 57minutes before Mathew Ramshaw salvaged a draw from a penalty corner in the 58th minute. RIZAL ABDULLAH