In a thrilling final, India got the better of Pakistan to win the Asian Games men’s hockey gold after 16 years. India and Pakistan were locked 1-1 at the end of 60 minutes of regulation time. In a dramatic shootout, India prevailed 4-2 after goalkeeper Sreejesh brought off a couple of stunning saves.
The win ensures India a direct ticket to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. India had to struggle to make the 2012 London Games where they finished last. This victory has been the best so far under Australian coach Terry Walsh. India were playing an Asian Games final after a gap of 12 years.
India had lost 2-1 in the group league match against Pakistan last week but on Thursday, Sardar Singh’s young team had the last laugh. It was Pakistan who drew first blood in the third minute through Muhammad Rizwan but India equalized in the 12th minute of the second quarter when Kothajit Singh deflected a sizzling cross from the right.
Both teams adopted a hit-and-run approach and the classical game that one expected from India and Pakistan was clearly missing. Rizwan’s first goal came off a fast counterattack and Kothajit’s goal had more luck than design written on it.
Sixty minutes of regulation time produced just three penalty corners – India 2 and Pakistan 1. All were wasted. Rupinderpal Singh tested Pakistan’s veteran goalie Imran Butt in the eighth minute of the second quarter but a flying save denied the burly Indian. In the 10th minute of the last quarter, Rupinderpal struck straight into Butt.
India looked cagey in attack. With skipper Sardar Singh playing the role of a defensive midfielder, buildups were few and far between. Sunil was the only man who looked sharp upfront and his fifth minute dazzling run in the third quarter was a treat. Sunil slipped and failed to score from three yards out as India was happy to take the match into the shootout.
Sreejesh was India’s hero. After Gurwinder Chandi gave India the lead in the shootout, Sreejesh denied Haseem Abdul Khan and Umar Bhutta to destroy Pakistani hopes. Rupinderpal, Birendra Lakra and Dharamvir Singh scored for India in the shootout with Manpreet Singh missing his attempt.
The Indian protested after the umpires disallowed Manpreet’s goal. The Pakistan goalie seemed to have brought down the India player but the umpires thought otherwise. Dharamvir’s goal was enough for India to seal the gold medal. It was well deserved at the end.