A misfiring India were made to toil hard before getting the better of arch-rivals Pakistan 4-3 in a pulsating third-fourth place contest to clinch the bronze medal at the Asian Champions Trophy 2021 men’s hockey tournament in Dhaka on Wednesday.
After having topped the round-robin stages, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists were far from impressive in their last two games, and the Manpreet Singh-led side had to play out of its skin to outwit Pakistan and finish on the podium.
After being stunned by Japan 3-5 in the semifinal on Tuesday, much was expected from India against Pakistan. They did press hard and created numerous chances, including 11 penalty corners, out of which they made use of just two.
India, who were the defending champions along with Pakistan in the last edition of the tournament in Muscat, will thus return with a consolation prize. The Indian team took the lead in the very first minute through vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh before Sumit (45th), Varun Kumar (53rd) and Akashdeep Singh (57th) struck a goal each.
Pakistan's goals were scored by Afraz (10th), Abdul Rana (33rd) and Ahmed Nadeem (57th). It was India's second win over Pakistan in the tournament after having beaten them 3-1 in the round-robin stages. In the summit clash late on Wednesday, South Korea will play Japan.
India started the match on a bright note, pressing the Pakistani defence from the onset. Unlike against Japan, India came out attacking and secured as many as four penalty corners straightaway, the last of which was converted by Harmanpreet with a powerful low flick in the first minute.
The Indians kept up the pressure with numerous raids inside the Pakistan circle but failed to create a clear-cut chance. Pakistan grew in confidence as time passed by and drew level in the 10th minute courtesy some sloppy defending by the Indians, in particular Harmanpreet, as he failed to clear a loose ball inside the circle, and Afraz did enough to get past onrushing goalkeeper Krishan Bahadur Pathak.
The Indians responded after conceding the goal and earned their fifth penalty corner soon, but Harmanpreet's flick was saved by the Pakistani defence. In the 14th minute, Pakistan got their first penalty corner, which was saved by Pathak.
It was a fighting contest in the second quarter as Pakistan defended in numbers to deny their neighbours. In the 22nd minute, India secured another penalty corner, but once again, Pakistan goalkeeper Amjad Ali came to his side's rescue by denying Harmanpreet.
Four minutes later, Amjad Ali was again in the thick of things when he saved Akashdeep Singh's reverse hit from close range. India continued their attacking spree and earned their seventh penalty corner soon, but an alert Amjad Ali made twin saves to deny Jarmanpreet Singh.
At the stroke of the half-time hooter, India secured their eighth penalty corner but, as has been the case, the finishing was not up to the mark. Three minutes after the change of ends, it was Pakistan who surged ahead when Abdul Rana scored from a rebound from the team's second penalty corner.
India were lucky not to concede another, in the 43rd minute, as Abdul Rana's attempt from Ali Shan's pass hit the near post. But three seconds from the third quarter, Gursahibjit Singh created a chance from nowhere and Sumit found himself at the perfect position inside the Pakistan circle to tap the ball in and draw level.
With the scores tied at 2-2, the fourth and final quarter produced end-to-end hockey from both the teams. India had the better share of chances but Pakistan too didn't give up without a fight. Lalit Upadhayay came close to handing India the lead, only to see his deflection sail inches wide off the target from Gurinder Singh's cross.
India secured two more penalty corners soon and this time, Varun was bang on target to make it 3-2 in his side's favour. Pakistan responded immediately by earning two penalty corners in succession but India skipper Manpreet defended brilliantly as first rusher.
Three minutes from the final hooter, Akashdeep scored with a reverse hit from a pass off Lalit, but Pakistan responded within no time when Nadeem deflected in a long ball to reduce the margin, from the next move.
Two unnecessary yellow cards, to Hardik Singh and Sumit, in the last five minutes didn't help India, but the suspensions didn't hurt the side either.