India wasted chances galore in their 1-2 defeat against arch-rivals and defending champions Pakistan in a keenly-contested Pool B match of the men’s hockey competition at the 17th Asian Games.
It was touted as the match to watch out for in the competition and as per expectations it turned out to be an exhilarating contest between the sub-continental rivals.
It was a duel of technical superiority as both the teams showed great skills on the turf while playing fast-paced hockey.
There was hardly anything to choose between the two sides as the match witnessed end-to-end hockey. Despite enjoying the better share of possession, the Sardar Singh-led side finished second best on the day, courtesy a string of missed chances from the forwards,
especially Ramandeep Singh and the backline’s perennial problem of buckling down under pressure.
The win virtually assured Pakistan’s top position in Pool B, while India made life difficult for themselves and at best now can only finish second in the pool and face mighty South Korea in the semi-final.
But for that to happen India will have to overcome lower-ranked but dangerous China in their last pool match on Saturday.
With injured Rupinderpal Singh ruled out of the match, the onus was on V R Raghunath to deliver with penalty corners but the burly drag-flick continued to misfire in the tournament as he wasted two set pieces.
Ramandeep’s trapping inside the Pakistan circle was horrendous as he wasted as many as three good chances while his striking partner Akashdeep Singh shot straight to goalkeeper Imran Butt from close range in the second quarter.
Pakistan too had their share of chances and Waqas came close to scoring in the second quarter but his reverse shot, with only Indian goalkeeper P R Sreejesh to beat, went wide.
After first two barren quarters, that witnessed one failed penalty corner each by both India and Pakistan, the title holders finally broke the deadlock in the 38th minute through Muhammad Umar Bhutta who scored from a rebound after Wasqas initial try was saved by Sreejesh.
Rocked by Pakistan’s goal, India went on the offensive and looked threatening in the fourth and final quarter but goal continued to elude them as the forwards lacked finishing.
Danish Mujtaba came close to restoring the parity in the 49th minute but his fine deflection from Kothajit Singh’s pass was brilliantly kept away by Pakistani goalkeeper Butt.
India’s persistent efforts finally bore fruit when Nikkin Thimmaiah drew level in the 53rd minute by tapping home Kothajit cross from the left flank.
But India’s joy was shortlived as a minute later the defending champions restored lead through Waqas reverse-hit as the Indian defence was caught napping by the pace of the Pakistani players.
With three wins from as many games, Pakistan are leading Pool B and expected to finish unbeaten in the pool as they face lowly Oman in their last match.