Coming out from a semi-retirement, Dhanraj Pillay showed a glimpse of his real class in the exhibition match that the Indian team played against a select Tamil Nadu XI, just before leaving for the Asia Cup. The Indian national team won the match by a good margin of 3-1 and Dhanraj Pillay's wonderful skills and subtle touches were clearly seen during the match. The Asia Cup was important for the Indian team, as winning the tournament would send them directly to the 2002 Kuala Lumpur World Cup.
India played its first match in the Asia Cup, Kuala Lumpur, 1999 against Japan and got a shaky start in the rain-affected match. Dhanraj Pillay was playing good in the first half of the match and though he missed an easy chance in the 3rd minute, he recovered from the mistake, quickly. The Indian players were struggling to beat the Japanese defenders for the first few minutes; however, Dilip Tirkey soon scored the first goal for India. He scored the goal from a penalty corner and Dinesh Nayak soon scored the second goal for India. Dhanraj Pillay was playing well in the match and was making some good runs through the Japanese defence. Baljit Saini scored the third goal for India and increased the lead to 3-0. However, the Japanese players could manage to score only one goal in the match and the match ended on 3-1, in India's favour.
The next match of India in the Asia Cup, Kuala Lumpur, 1999 was against Malaysia, to which team India lost in the Semi-Final of the Commonwealth Games, Kuala Lumpur, 1998, in spite of playing well. India started slowly in this match also and only Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon were making the attacks on the Malaysians. India increased its speed of attacking on the Malaysian defence gradually and it earned its first penalty corner in the 6th minute. However, the penalty corner went in vein, as no body could score a goal from the corner. The Malaysian team scored its first goal against the flow of the match from their third penalty corner. Dhanraj Pillay made some wonderful runs through the Malaysian defence, after the goal, but as he was a bit slow than his usual speed, he failed to materialize any of the chances. India finished the first half, training by 1 goal to Malaysia.
However, the scenario changed in the second half of the match and India scored the equaliser through the stick of Gagan Ajit Singh in the 44th minute. Dhanraj Pillay and the other Indian players continued to put on more pressures on the Malaysian defenders after the goal, however, all the time they failed to convert a chance to a goal. As a result, the match finished 1-1 as a drawn one and Dhanraj Pillay was looking to be quite disappointed with the performance. India recovered from the poor performance against Malaysia, in their next match against Hong Kong, quite nicely. Though, Dhanraj Pillay and the other Indian strikers were failing to find their rhythm in the first half of the match, India eventually clinched a huge victory of 5-0 in the match. Dhanraj Pillay played quite well in the match and was instrumental in 2 of the 5 goals India scored in the match, besides scoring the fifth and final goal. India became the toppers in the Pool B of the Asia Cup, Kuala Lumpur, 1999 by winning this match and also entered into the Semi-Finals of the tournament.
The opponent of India in the Semi-Final of the Asia Cup, Kuala Lumpur, 1999 was the South Korea team, the team which was beaten by India in the Final of the Asian Games, Bangkok, 1998. Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Singh Dhillon, Senthil and Deepak Thakur started as the strikers for India in the match. Both the teams started the match on a cautious note, however, the score card looked 2-2 within the first 15 minutes of the match. The South Korea team scored the first goal in the match and they took a 2-0 lead in the match, within just 8 minutes. However, India recovered from the early deficit very quickly and scored its first goal in the 9th minute. Dilip Tirkey scored the first goal from the first penalty corner that India got and Dhillon soon scored the second goal for India. Dhanraj Pillay was a bit shaky till then and he started to find his rhythm after the second goal. He made some glorious runs through the Korean defence and Deepak Thakur scored the third goal for India, as a result from such a run. However, India failed to retain the 3-2 lead for long and South Korea scored the equaliser soon to end the first half 3-3.
India started the second half with a much better ball possession and Dhanraj Pillay was playing with more aggressiveness than the first half. Though the Koreans deployed a market behind Dhanraj Pillay, he brilliantly got rid of the market, several times. India took a lead once again in the match in the 42nd minute, when Dhanraj Pillay wonderfully scored the fourth goal for India. Dhanraj Pillay continued his extraordinary display of stick work and lightening runs through the South Korean defence. However, the Korean team became successful to make yet another come back in the match and leveled the score 4-4, with just 10 minutes to go in the match. The Indian defence then made a big mistake in the ending part of the match and the mistake allowed the South Korea team to clinch a 5-4 win in the match. South Korea scored their final goal in the last minute of the match.
India played against Malaysia in the play-off for the third spot in the Asia Cup, Kuala Lumpur, 1999 and the first half of the match remained goalless. However, Dhanraj Pillay shone in the second half of the match and started to make his trademark runs through the Malaysian defence. India scored its first goal through the stick of Senthil in the 44th minute and Deepak Thakur increased the lead to 2-0 in the 50th minute. However, Malaysia scored one goal in the 53rd minute to reduce the lead to 1-2. Deepak Thakur scored yet another goal in the 61st minute of the match and increased the lead to 3-1. Then, Dhanraj Pillay wonderfully scored the fourth and final goal for India in the 64th minute to take the lead to 4-1. However, Malaysia scored a goal in the 69th minute of the match and that made the final score of the match read 4-2. Dhanraj Pillay played wonderfully throughout the match and he played crucial roles in almost all the goals India scored. Though, India could win the bronze medal in the tournament only, it was quite a good tournament for Dhanraj Pillay, as he played with his entire talent.
(Last Updated on : 01-01-2011)
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