Jakarta: Scoring once in each half through Akashdeep Singh and Harmanpreet Singh, India downed Pakistan 2-1 to claim the bronze medal in the Men’s hockey competition at the 18th Asian Games here on Saturday.
Playing in front of the exuberant fans, who packed the stands again to cheer on when India took the lead in the 3rd minute through Akashdeep, who scored a super goal leaving the Pakistan defenders bewildered.
The 2014 champions took another 47 minutes to increase the lead when Harmanpreet converted the first penalty corner, which Indians were awarded.
Two minutes later, Atiq Muhammad reduced the margin for the losers taking advantage of Pakistan’s defensive lapse.
The match between the two arch rivals, however, failed to produce the game for which they were once so famous. The match was evenly divided but was devoid of that extra excitement which was associated with such contests in the past.
Though the Indians achieved an early break through the Pakistan rallied back strongly but were unlucky not to have equalised in the sixth minute when Shafqat Rasool got a good chance and though his reverse shot beat the onrushing goalkeeper Sreejesh, but ball rebounded after it hit the post.
The Indian retaliation was swift and incisive as Simranjeet and Sunil created an opening, but failed to convert it into goal.
After being under pressure for few minutes, Pakistan got into attacking mode and Atiq got a chance in the Indian circle but he delayed taking the crack and missed a good opportunity.
Indians then intercepted a rival move and began rotating the ball to keep it in their possession.
As the former champions found it tough to cut through the rival mid-field, they took to scoping the ball. There were several good moves by Rupinder, and Vivek, who created an opening for but Mandeep fumbled near the circle and his weak shot was cleared by the Pakistan defence.
Midway through the second quarter, the Indians suddenly fell back thus allowing their rivals to take over the mid-field. The Pakistan made a flurry of attacks from the flanks, but Harmanpreet and Rupinder were solid in the defence and foiled the attempts.
After the breather, Indians tried to regain the initiative and they used their speed to keep Pakistan at bay, forcing them to use almost eight players at the back.
Muhammad Dilber, however, made few counter moves which forced India to beef up their defence.
Atiq cut through the Indian defence, but his powerful shot missed the target. Pakistan at that stage got some momentum going. Shafqat attempted another shot on the Indian goal, but the ball went off the stick.
This was the dominating phase for Pakistan in the match. They soon earned their first penalty which was followed by another but India went for a review. India’s protest followed by the first referral forced the video umpire uphold penalty corner decision.
Pakistan failed to make use of this penalty corner, which led to a goalmouth melee, but Sardar Singh cleared the ball.
With seven minutes to go in the third quarter, India came under pressure as Pakistan gained quite a lot of momentum. India suddenly made a counter attack as Rupinder relayed the ball to Sunil whose shot was deflected off the goalkeeper’s pads. And, India missed a golden opportunity to increase the lead.
However, Pakistan goalkeeper Imran Butt brought off four grand saves-all in a one-to-one situation.
The Indians maintained the relentless pressure as Sardar, Akashdeep and then Sunil made very incisive moves, but all their efforts went a begging for the lack support from other forwards.
As timed ticked Pakistan regrouped themselves and started playing extremely well in the midfield-Pakistan earned their third penalty corner in the 39th minute, but Manpreet Singh made a grand save.
Pakistan kept their morale up and defended well to force the Indian midfield to yield space.
Five minutes into the last quarter, India earned their first penalty corner and Harmanpreet made no mistake in sounding the board with a powerful low flick. Eight minutes before the final whistle, Pakistan reduced the margin through Atiq in the 52nd minute. Soon after India got their second penalty corner, but this time Rupinder’s flick went wide.
In the dying minutes of the match, Sardar created an opening for Chinglensana whose deflection was superbly saved by a defender.
Before this match, India and Pakistan last met at Breda in the Champions Trophy, where India won 4-0.
Former National Sports Editor of UNI writes for Sakal Times