Favourites India prevailed 3-2 over arch-rivals Pakistan to reclaim the Asian Champions Trophy hockey in a thrilling summit showdown, presenting a perfect Diwali gift to the nation here today.
Goals from Rupinder Pal Singh (18th minute), Yousuf Affan (23rd) and Nikkin Thimmaiah (51st) helped India surmount the challenge from Pakistan, who rallied from two goals behind through strikes by Muhammad Aleem Bilal (26th) and Ali Shaan (38th) in the title clash of the fourth edition of tournament.
This was the first time the teams were meeting in the final of a continental tournament since India dethroned Pakistan as the Asian Games champions in Incheon, South Korea in 2014.
India had won the inaugural edition of the Asian Champions Trophy by defeating Pakistan in the final in 2011.
Pakistan reversed the result in the title contest the next year and went on to retain it in 2013 by defeating Japan in the final.
World No. 6 India were the favourites going into the tournament, but were without several seasoned players who had been rested to recuperate from injuries.
India went into the title contest at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium without ace custodian PR Sreejesh, who was rested due to pulled hamstring and Akash Chikte took the position under the bar.
India earned their first penalty corner in the seventh minute, but failed to make it count. Ace flicker Rupinder was on the spot, but Jasjit Singh Kular was allowed to take the shot in a tactical move. Jasjit’s shot went wide of the left and posed no threat.
Pakistan had a chance to take the lead in the 12th minute when Muhammad Rizwan Jr picked up a long ball inside the Indian circle and had only the goalkeeper to beat from close range. Goalkeeper Chikte stepped up to tackle him from close and Rizwan Jr shot wide to muff the opportunity.
A cross from the right sailed across the Pakistan goal in the 11th minute without the Indian strikers being able to connect, while at the other end Muhammad Arslan Qadir’s shy from a narrow angle was padded away by the Indian goalkeeper as the first quarter came to an end.
India broke the deadlock to score the first goal in the 18th minute on their second penalty corner as Rupinder sent a rasping drag-flick into the left side of the net. This was the 11 penalty corner conversion in the tournament by Rupinder, the highest goal-scorer in the tournament by a big margin.
Three minutes later, Nikkin Thimmaiah releyed a ball from Sardar Singh to Talwinder Singh on the left. Talwinder could not control his reverse drive and the ball went soaring over the cross-bar.