INDIA coach Harendra Singh walked into the Press Conference after beating Malaysia 2-1 in the Sultan of Johor Cup and surprised the gallery when he congratulated Malaysia for their fighting spirit.
"First of all, congratulations to Malaysia for giving us such a good fight. It was a close game and penalty corners won us the match," said Harendra.
Back-to-back SOJC champions India are on course for their hat-trick of titles, but not before Malaysia gave them a fight of their lives.
Even though Malaysia will not be playing in the final of the SOJC, but fighting with Pakistan for the third-fourth classification spot, coach Arul Selvaraj's charges have shown tremendous progress in just four matches.
Starting with a 4-2 defeat in the hands of Britain, Malaysia's graph went upwards when they held Argentina 2-2 and then beat Australia 3-2.
Against India, the only mistake Malaysia made were to give away too many penatly corners, and were punished by two goals from Harmanpreet Singh.
It were the first two goals of the tournament for Harmanpreet, whose penalty corners were not effective in the earlier matches.
Comparatively, Shahril Saabah scored his fifth penalty corner goal against India and is second on the top-scorers list.
Malaysia and India are in Group A of the Junior Asia Cup, where the semi-finalists are assured of a spot in the New Delhi Junior World Cup next year.
The other teams in Group A are Japan and China. The teams in Group B are Pakistan, South Korea, Oman and Bangladesh.
"We are in the same group as India in the Junior Asia Cup so this match was very important for our players to get a feel before the cruncher in Kuantan," said Malaysian coach Arul Selvaraj.
The Asia Cup format is in line with the International Hockey Federation (FIH), where all eight teams will play in the quarter-finals, and one win here will place the team in the Junior World Cup.
Thats why the match aganst Pakistan today, our possible cross-over opponents in Kuantan, is not just another fixture to complete.
"We will have two missions in the match against Pakistan. First is to to beat them and hopefull play in the third-fourth classification. And secondly, size them up for the Junior Asia Cup," said Arul.
Pakistan's only fabulous run in this tournament was 0-0 draw with Britain.
However, Arul must keeep his fingers crossed that India beat Australia in the earlier match, and only then will the door open for Malaysia as Australia have a better goal-average.
But if the equations go wrong today, Arul can still take comfort in playing Pakistan twice, in the fifth-sixth classification -- for two 'friendlies' before the Junior World Cup qualifier.
SATURDAY: Argentina v Britain (4.35pm), Australia v India (6.3pm), Malaysia v Pakistan (8.35pm).
P W D L F A Pts
INDIA 4 3 0 1 13 8 9
BRITAIN 4 2 2 0 12 9 8
ARGENTINA 4 2 1 1 8 6 7
AUSTRALIA 4 1 1 2 12 10 4
MALAYSIA 4 1 1 2 8 10 4
PAKISTAN 4 0 1 3 4 14 1