IPOH: Japan snatched a 2-1 victory to dash Malaysia’s hopes of defending the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup as well a place in the final at the Azlan Shah Hockey Stadium here on Wednesday (May 8) night.

The result saw Japan march into their first ever final in the competition with a game to spare and face Pakistan while the Speedy Tigers will most likely feature in the playoff for third placing.

Pakistan and Japan have 10 points each after four matches while Malaysia and New Zealand have six points each.

Only the top two teams make it to the final in the round robin format of the competition.

Malaysia, marching into the field as the team that has scored the highest number of goals in the competition with 16, faced the Japanese who had the best defensive record after having conceded only three goals.

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Known fondly as the Samurai squad, the Japanese started the match on an aggressive note and caused all sorts of problems to the Malaysian defence before taking the lead through Kazumasa Matsumoto in the 24th minute.

The start of the second half saw the Speedy Tigers up the tempo and a ‘reverse stick’ flick by Faizal Saari in the 31st minute levelled the tie.

However, Japan who refused to buckle under pressure went on the offensive and earned their reward in the 50th minute when Taiki Takade struck the winner.

The Speedy Tigers will face South Korea in their final round robin fixture, Japan takes on Canada while Pakistan face New Zealand.

Malaysia’s hopes were raised despite losing the first match 4-5 to Pakistan when the Speedy Tigers bounced back to beat Canada 6-2 and New Zealand 6-4, while Japan beat South Korea 2-1 and New Zealand New Zealand 4-1 before holding Pakistan to a 1-1 draw.

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Malaysia clinched the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup for the first time in 2022 after having finished in the runnerup position five times before since the inception of the competition in 1983.

National head coach Sarjit Singh when commenting on tonight’s match said Malaysia could have won the match if the players had taken their chances created.

“Our players played well, but the first two quarters wasn’t good. In the third quarter, we started to push and we were getting results. We had enough chances to secure the match, but when we didn’t score this is what happens. We made mistakes from our build up, they took the opportunity and punished us,” he said.

Japan’s coach Yoshihiro Anai who was elated by the victory was full of praise for his players who produced a consistent performance throughout the match.