KUANTAN, May 16 South Korea shattered Pakistan's dream of regaining the Asia Cup after 20 years with a solitary-goal victory under the dazzling floodlights at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium on Saturday.
Penalty-corner specialist Kim Byung Hoon became his team's hero when he scored the match-winning goal four minutes from time to help Korea deny Pakistan of winning the title for the third time.
Korea, which had earlier won the title in Hiroshima in 1994 and at Kuala Lumpur in 1999, had finished as runners-up to India in 2006.
Ranked fifth in the world, the Koreans displayed a clinical display at the fag end of the match to outplay Pakistan while forcing them to play the World Cup qualifiers to be held in Dubai later this year.
The match's biggest disappointment was Sohail Abbas's lack of form. He could score just one goal off the 14 penalty corners that Pakistan earned in the event.
However, the match was not without controversy, to the amazement of the followers of the game and Pakistan's players, when Indian umpire Javed Shaikh disallowed a brilliant goal scored by Haseem Khan off a cross pass from Rehan Butt.
The men in green have themselves to blame for missing as many as five sure opportunities.
Pakistan couldn't score in the first half due to their missed shots at the goal. The three-time champions Pakistan got off to a great start by mustering back-to-back penalty-corners but the world's highest goal scorer Sohail's first attempt in the third minute hit a defender's foot, thus the umpire awarded the team with a second short corner in the next minute.
Taking his 13th penalty-corner of the tournament, Sohail Abbas's drag-flick sailed miles over the bar after hitting a defender's stick.
In bid to pick up the game's tempo, the team management introduced Abbas Hyder, Tariq Aziz and Akhtar Ali in place of Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi. Waqas Akbar was guilty of missing a sitter in the 23rd minute when he failed to scoop the ball into the goal with just Korean custodian Lee Myung Ho at his mercy.
Seconds before the break Rehan's fierce attempt on the moving ball at the goal was brilliantly saved again by the Korean goalie.
It was a winning debut for Korea's coach Cho Myung-ju, and the side now holds both the Asian Games and the Asia Cup titles while also having secured its place at the 2010 World Cup in India.
Pakistan will join China, Malaysia and Japan in the qualifiers in November.
The Korean coach Cho said that his team's superior attacking in the second half proved decisive.
“We were confident and expected a close match. The win will spur us for further success in the coming year,” he said.
Pakistans coach Shahid Ali Khan said that his team's defeat coincided with their best performance of the tournament.
“We had good control of the match and ample chances to score. We are on the right track and we have improved with each match. We will only get better from here,” he said.
Earlier, China snatched the tournament's bronze medal after 27 years when they beat host Malaysia 7-6 in tense match, which had to be decided on penalty strokes.
The play off match for the third place which produced a 3-3 result during regulation time and extra time, saw Chinas goalkeeper Su Ri Feng emerge as the hero as he blocked attempts from Mohammad Nor Nabil Fiqri and Kelvinder Singh to the disappointment of a strong local crowd.
Captain Song Yi struck two goals for the winning team. Compared to the first half, the second was far more thrilling and exciting as China came thrice from behind to level the scores.
They were 1-2 down at the breather but converted their second short corner in the 47th minute when Songs's rolling drive beat goalie Kumar.
The Malaysians kept China under pressure by making inroads and they were rewarded for it in the 64th minute when Mohammad Nor Nabil Fiqri superb field effort after dodging two defenders again gave Malaysia a 3-2 lead.
But China too pulled a brilliant field goal through Jiang Xi Shang three minutes from time to make it 3-all.
Looking to retain their spot in the competition, Malaysia made a dream start when swift Ismail Abu banged the opener with a deceptive move which left the Chinese defence totally confused.
However, China quickly retaliated and forced their first short corner in the fourth minute. But Malaysias custodian S. Kumar thwarted the attacks by blocking Hu Hui Ren strikes on many occasions.
China kept Malaysian defence at bay with a threatening move but Kumar made another save in the 7th minute.
The inroads into Malaysian defence were rewarded when goalie brought down Chinese attacker Liu Xian Tang in 17th minute and Argentinean umpire Fernando Gomes awarded a penalty stroke. Chinas Captain Song Yi scooped at the top cage to level the terms 1-1.
After some dull time, Malaysia picked up the game's momentum through some lovely moves. They secured their first short corner and their striker Chua Boon Huat made no mistake with a powerful drive to make it 2-1 four minutes before half time.
China last won a medal in the continental competition in the inaugural
contest at Karachi in 1982.
Korean forward You Hyo Sik was named the player of the tournament. Kim Byung Hoon with six goals, including the match-winning one in the final against Pakistan, received the prize for the highest goals scored against Pakistan in the final. Hong Eun Seong was named man of the final while Malaysian goalkeeper S. Kumar was adjudged the best keeper of the tournament.
The prizes were distributed by the vice deputy of Malaysian Hockey Federation Nur Azmi. Earlier, President of the Asian Hockey Federation Sultan Azlan Shah presented the winning trophy to the Korean captain Ch Jong Bok and distributed the gold among the team.
The King of Pahang Sultan Haji Ahmed Shah presented the silver medals to the Pakistan team and Minister Sports Datu Ahmed Shaberi Chik gave away the bronze medals to the Malaysian team. The presentation ceremony was followed by a spectacular fireworks display.
South Korea 1 Pakistan 0
Third place play-off
Malaysia 3 China 3
1. South Korea; 2. Pakistan; 3. China; 4. Malaysia; 5. India; 6. Japan; 7. Bangladesh.—APP/AFP