round robin tie in Kuantan, Malaysia certainly lived up to the billing.
There was just one penalty corner for either side but the open hockey meant there were plenty of field chances.
Lead changed thrice, keeping the crowd on tenterhooks.
Pakistan came out of the tracks quickly and in the very first minute forced a penalty corner resulting from a foot foul. Aleem Bilal had two strikes but both were parried by the brilliant Indian net minder Sreejesh.
They had another good opportunity in the 4th minute when a wonderful attack from the right founf Rizwan Sr in a good spot at the top of the circle but he pushed wide.
India managed to regroup well and after a mid field struggle for possession over next five minutes, had the best chance of the first quarter. Talwinder got time and space just inside the circle but his tomahawk went above the bar.
They had a couple of more good circle penetrations but the Pakistani defence expertly saw them off.
Two sides continued to look for the target. After a good individual run, Tasawwar had a crack via a reverse shot but he had gone too far and the narrow angle was well covered by the goal keeper.
In the 22nd minute, India broke the ice courtesy a goal keeping howler. Pradeep Mor carried a loose ball into the circle. His hit from the left side somehow went through Imran Butt’s pads.
India maintained the 1-0 lead when the hooter sounded the end of the half.
Green shirts were off to an explosive start when play resumed. In the very first minute, a long hit by Aleem Bilal was well controlled by Rizwan Sr, who plays his club hockey in the Dutch league, just outside the circle. On entering the area, his superb flat and angular strike comprehensively beat the outstretched leg of Sreejesh and sounded the right corner of the board. With the scores level, game’s tempo increased with pole to pole stuff. In the 39th minute, Umar Bhutta displaying bewitching 3 D skills eliminated a couple of defenders along the goal line before sending a minus to Irfan Junior who tapped the ball in to put Pakistan ahead 2-1.
For a while, Pakistan seemed to be in the driving seat. However, India came back strongly. A Pakistani foot in the circle handed India their only PC in the 44th minute. The giant figure of Ravinder Pal Singh stepped up. His missile flick hit the roof of the net and India were back on equal terms. This was Ravinder’s seventh goal of the tournament. The very next minute, another defensive mistake saw Pakistan going into the arrears once again. A long hit into the circle was deflected by Aleem Bilal’s stick into Talwnider Singh’s path. He passed it to unmarked Ramandeed standing close to goal, who caressed the ball into the net.
In the last quarter, India threatened early. Imran Butt was twice called into action and he did well. Thereafter, the ball swayed either way, with both set of forwards looking dangerous. Pakistan’s Arslan Qadir perhaps had the best of the strikes when his strong hit was well stopped by Sreejesh.
India won the pulsating encounter 4-3.
The last time these two sides met, also in Malaysia in Azlan Shah Cup this April, India, Asia’s only representative a the 2016 Olympics, had outplayed Pakistan 5-1. Today, world’s sixth ranked side were pushed to the limits by the 14th ranked Pakistan, who paid the price for two defensive blunders.
Pakistan have three points from as many games. However, with the top four of the six teams making into the semis, the green shirts are very much in the competition.
India (Pradeep Mor 22′, Ravinder Pal Sing 44′ and Ramandeep Singh 45′)
Pakistan (Rizwan Sr 31′ and Irfan Jr 39′)