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Asian Champions Trophy title triumph over Malaysia will ‘really count’ as India prepare for Asian Games: Craig Fulton

The India hockey team fought back from two goals down to eke out a 4-3 win over Malaysia in the final to claim their fourth ACT title here on Saturday.

The Asian Champions Trophy title triumph will “really count” as India set sights on Asian Games gold in order to secure automatic qualification to 2024 Paris Olympics, said head coach Craig Fulton.

The India hockey team fought back from two goals down to eke out a 4-3 win over Malaysia in the final to claim their fourth ACT title here on Saturday.

With the Hangzhou Asian Games scheduled to commence on September 23, Fulton was asked whether a thrilling final like this will help the side in the continental showpiece event.

“Finals are cagier; they never go smooth. It comes down to a moment or shootouts. So, it’s important to have a game like this because it really counts.

“At the same time, it’s (ACT) not the Asian Games. So, our feet are firmly on the ground. But, if you said to me to win the Asian Games and lose this final, I would obviously vouch for winning the Games,” added Fulton.

Fulton said the comeback story of the team had begun two months back.

“Two months ago,” Fulton told PTI on the sidelines after India’s comeback win.

Asked about the biggest learning from this tournament, he said, “Not to have back-to-back tournaments; that would be a start.”

Several teams had reservations over the timing of ACT with the Asian Games just weeks away.

Decoding the performance

India were trailing 1-3 at half-time before they turned things around in the second half.

Decoding the performance, Fulton, while giving due credit to Malaysia, said that coming into the final after a “high-quality” semifinal against Japan the previous day hadn’t been easy.

India thrashed Japan 5-0 in the last-four stage.

“We had a really good game (against Malaysia). Also, against Japan in the semis — a high-quality match. To back that up is always hard.

“Malaysia raised their game and controlled the first half. We didn’t do bad, but we were not 100 per cent committed to what we were trying to do,” he added.

“We regrouped at half-time. All we needed was a goal to bounce back. And then, it was just a matter of time to equalise and try to get the winner.”

Fulton gave credit to his boys for trusting each other when the chips were down. He added that fighting back from a two-goal deficit showed the true character of the side.

“You will find guys who trust each other and trust to get the job done. They feel confident about stepping up. After the first half, we decided to press, and the younger players stood up along with the senior players.

“The character of the team is great. It is a really important step because you need to know that you can come from behind, as it’s easy to play when you are up by two or three goals,” he continued.

“Also, how to tackle if a team is trying to come back despite you being up is also a big challenge. We have covered a lot of those areas before the Asian Games, but we still have a lot of work to do,” added Fulton.

He, however, said the team should have done better in the first half.

“We didn’t play well in the first half. We turned the game around in the second half; that’s character. We are on a little journey at the moment, but we still got another step to go.”

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