Ipoh: India's chances of entering the final of the ongoing Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament went up in smoke as they suffered a 0-1 defeat to hosts Malaysia in their last league match here on Friday.
India struggled to break down the opponents' defence throughout the game and paid the price around 10 minutes from the end when Shahril Saabah (51st minute) beat Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh with an excellent placement off a penalty corner.
Malaysia thus ended the league stage of the tournament without conceding a goal.
India's loss means Britain will meet Australia in the final on Saturday.
Going into Friday's match, India were at the second position with seven points from four matches. They had the same number of points as Britain but were ahead as they had scored more goals.
With Britain winning their match against New Zealand 3-2 and jumping to the second position in the points table, India had to beat Malaysia by a margin of two goals or more to qualify for the final.
India will now compete for the bronze medal against New Zealand on Saturday.
After the first quarter ended in a goalless stalemate, India earned a penalty seconds after the start of the second period.
It was a quick-thinking Mandeep Singh who found the defender's leg but India's experienced dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh's powerful sweep was padded away by Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam.
Kumar was kept busy all through the quarter but he did not disappoint. He made an important save when Talwinder Singh received a pass from Affan Yousuf and took a shot on goal in the 22nd minute.
A back stick on the ball by a Malaysian defender in the penalty circle saw India win their second penalty corner in the 23rd minute but the Malaysian rushers did well to keep Rupinder at bay.
The hosts' defence continued to impress as India's third penalty corner attempt was denied as the second quarter ended goalless.
Malaysia played a determined game with good defence that continued to test the Indian players.
They won their first penalty corner in the 34th minute following good stick work by Faizal Saari who found Sardar Singh's foot in the circle.
Malaysia won another penalty corner soon after but Rupinder ensured that the flick did not reach the post. With the clock ticking away, India were desperate for a breakthrough.
Entering the final quarter, Malaysia kept up the pressure on India who conceded a penalty corner in the 49th minute. But the hosts couldn't convert with the flick going wide.
Malaysia won another penalty corner when Fitri Saari found Manpreet Singh's foot in the striking circle. This chance didn't go amiss for Malaysia with Shahril Saabah firing the ball to the right of a diving Sreejesh.
A penalty corner in the 56th minute brought some hope for India. It was S.V. Sunil who helped win the set piece but a goal was denied with Harmanpreet Singh's flick blocked by the Malaysian defenders.
Another penalty corner came India's way with just three minutes to go for the final hooter. But a variation in set piece saw Rupinder pass to Sardar Singh who couldn't manage to find the target, thus ending India's hopes to earn a berth in the final.