Top-ranked India had to dig deep into their reserves to eke out a 3-2 victory over arch-rivals and defending champions Pakistan in a preliminary league match of the fourth Asian Champions Trophy hockey in Malaysia on Sunday.
India exhibited their composed defence when under pressure from early Pakistan raids and worked hard to gain control of the showpiece encounter of the tournament at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium.
Young striker Pradeep Mor scored his maiden goal in 13 international appearances to give India the lead in the 11th minute, but Pakistan then took charge through strikes from Muhammad Rizwan Sr. In the 31st minute and Muhammad Irfan Jr. in the 39th.
Rupinder Pal Singh converted India’s only penalty corner in the 43rd minute and Ramandeep Singh came into goal-scoring action the following minute by deflecting in a diagonal cross from Talwinder Singh.
This victory gives India seven points from three outings. India had outplayed Japan 10-2 in their first outing, but were held to a 1-1 draw by South Korea on Saturday.
Top four teams from the round-robin competition will advance to the semifinals.
India took the lead against the run of play in the 22nd minute when Pradeep Mor on the right flank latched on to the ball that had deflected off a Pakistani defender. Mor darted into the circle and sent in a firm shot from a very narrow angle that beat goalkeeper Imran Butt to land on target.
Continuing to look for the equaliser, Pakistan were rewarded in the first minute after half-time as the Indian defence left Rizwan Sr. Unmarked on top of the circle as he collected a long diagonal ball and sent a snap shot into the left corner of the boards. Rizwan Sr. Had no pressure of time or space and his flash strike denied Sreejesh even the time to react.
After end to end counters by either side, Pakistan surged ahead in the 39th minute as Muhammad Ifran Jr. Capitalised on an attack from the left to shoot home in a crowded circle.
As the game picked up pace, India earned their first penalty corner in 43rd minute when the ball hit a Pakistan defender’s foot.
Rupinder Pal Singh converted the penalty corner with a rasping drag-flick that went high into the net.
The Indians went into a 3-2 lead a minute later when a long ball caught Pakistan’s defence off-guard. Talwinder neatly collected the ball on the left and sent in a diagonal cross that a diving Ramandeep Singh deflected into the boards. The third quarter of the match produced four goals, but both teams guarded their territory well in the last quarter.