It was a win India needed most. Led by dependable drag flicker Harmanpreet Singh, India registered a thrilling 3-1 victory against nemesis Pakistan in the much-awaited encounter between the Continental heavyweights here in the Hero Men’s Asian Champions Trophy at Dhaka on Friday.
Goals by Harmanpreet Singh (9′, 53′) and the experienced striker Akashdeep Singh (42′) were enough to ensure Indian win. India now firmly remains in contention for its third consecutive title at the Hero Asian Champions Trophy, having won the prestigious tournament in 2016 and joint winners in 2018. For Pakistan, Junaid Manzoor scored the lone goal in 45th minute.
With this win, second in three matches, India stays on top of the table with seven points while Korea, who defeated Bangladesh 3-2, is placed at number two position with five points from three games.
Both India and Pakistan have won the title thrice each. It was the 57th encounter between the two countries and India earned its 27th win. Pakistan has won 25 times while five games have ended in draws.
Pakistan has brought in Siegfried Aikman, the Netherlands-based Indian coach, as its Head Coach. It was Siegfried Aikman’s trained Japan that won the last Asian Games men’s hockey title at Jakarta.
Both teams lived up to their top billing as they kept up the tempo of the game right from the beginning. While it was India who drew the first blood through a penalty corner perfectly converted by Vice Captain Harmanpreet Singh to gain 1-0 lead in the 9th minute, Pakistan did not allow any further opportunity to India in the remainder of the first quarter to keep the score line static.
After a goalless second quarter, the match took a thrilling turn in the third and fourth quarters respectively with both teams upping the ante. Though India made some potential circle entries, it could not utilise the opportunities. However, young Shilanand Lakra broke the gridlock in the 42nd minute when he made a fine tackle to enter the attacking circle from the left flank. He teamed up with Sumit to assist Akashdeep Singh who was poised in front of the goal-mouth to deflect the ball home, thus fetching India’s second goal of the match.
Soon after, Pakistan scored in the 45th minute when it beat India’s defence that had done well so far to restrict them to just three shots on goal. It was Junaid who successfully put the ball past India’s goalie to narrow the deficit to 1-2.
The final quarter remained tense with both teams increasing the tempo in their attempts to score. It was Lalit Upadhyay who worked a good move to earn India a penalty corner in the 53rd minute. Akashdeep made a perfect injection which was stopped on point by Sumit as Harmanpreet took a fierce drag flick to score. While India took its lead to a strong 3-1, Pakistan earned two penalty corners in the final minutes of the match but the opportunity was denied by young India goalie Suraj Karkera who came up with brilliant footwork to make fine saves on both the occasions.