Hyderabad:Drag-flicker Diwakar Ram scored a brace as an inspired India raised its game to beat Malaysia 3-1 in a Group A match to reach the semi-finals of the Junior Asian Cup hockey tournament at the Gachibowli stadium here on Saturday.
In another Group A match, a spirited Japan toyed with Singapore 9-1. Japan, who made things difficult for hosts India Friday in the opening match, played an attacking game and pounded the Singapore defence.
Defending champions India now have six points after winning two consecutive matches and lead the group standings. Japan has three points and Malaysia and Singapore are on one point each after the second round of the group phase. Two teams from each group will move to the semi-finals.
India's last league match is against Singapore on Monday.
After a lacklustre performance against Japan in the opening match on Friday, it was an improved show from the title-holders, who created numerous moves to prise open the Malaysian defence.
India led 2-0 in the breather with goals from Pramod Kumar and Diwakar.
Diwakar, who had been rising quickly through the ranks, was also one of India's star performers in the Azlan Shah tournament in May. The drag-flicker with his clean scoops rattled the otherwise solid Malaysia goalkeeper and captain Abdul Hakim Adnan, and showed why he is rated so highly.
Abdul was by far the best Malaysian on the turf and made some good saves to thwart the relentless Indian attack.
Pramod opened the scoring after he deflected in Ranjeet Singh's long hit at the top of the circle in the 27th minute, three minutes after Danish Mujtaba had missed a easy chance to score.
Diwakar doubled the lead from the third penalty corner awarded to India as he scooped Gurwinder Singh Chandi's shot into the right corner of the net.
Immediately after the breather, Malaysia got four successive penalty corners and Khairil Anuar Isa converted the last.
Diwakar completed the tally in the 42nd minute by converting the fifth penalty corner awarded to the hosts.
Indian coach A.K Bansal was satisfied with the performance and said: "It was an improved performance by the team. In the first 25 minutes, Malaysia were defending strongly but once they came up, we created chances and got the results."
In the earlier match, Hiroki Shirawa, Kenta Tanaka, Kenji Kitazato (2), Hirayuki Fujiyoshi (2), Taisuke Ito, Daisuke Suzuki and Ryohei Kawai completed the tally for Japan. Singapore's consolation came from Muhammad Sabri Yuhari who converted the team's only penalty corner in the last minute of the match.