Indian Men’s Hockey Team’s opening tie in Pool B against Pakistan went down to the wire with the arch-rivals scoring an equalizer in the 60th minute through dragflicker Ali Mubashar to hold India 2-2. With less than seven seconds for the final hooter, Pakistan asked for back-to-back video referrals to see if there was a foot of the Indian defender in the circle.
The video umpire upheld Pakistan’s appeal on both occasions, and though Mubashar’s attempt was padded away by India’s goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, it was in the second attempt that he kept the ball low to sound the board, thus stalling the Indian team’s dream start to their campaign here in Gold Coast.
In the opening two quarters, India got off to a near-perfect start, stitching together a calm and effective structure that earned early goals in the 13th and 20th minute through youngsters Dilpreet Singh and Harmanpreet Singh respectively. If India rallied on speed, Pakistan kept up with strong defence as experienced legs in Muhammad Irfan Senior and goalkeeper Imran Butt stonewalled India’s attempts to score.
It was Rupinder Pal Singh’s interception in the midfield that setup a fierce counter attack in the 13th minute that eventually saw Dilpreet convert. A lethally fast SV Sunil’s cross to Dilpreet Singh was brilliantly picked up and put past Pakistan’s goalkeeper fetching India 1-0 lead. Though Pakistan almost immediately found an opportunity to equalize through Ali Shan, his shot hit the cross bar.
The second quarter began with Mandeep Singh earning India their first PC but Rupinder’s dragflick was off the mark. In the 20th minute, SV Sunil worked his stick inside the circle to win India back-to-back PCs. Though Harmanpreet Singh’s first attempt was well-saved by Imran Butt, he found the right corner of the net in his second attempt.
A perfect injection by Manpreet, good trapping by Chinglensana Singh was improvised by Harmanpreet to make a successful dragflick that won India 2-0 lead. The following minutes saw India’s goalkeeper PR Sreejesh work his magic as he padded away Pakistan’s first PC in the 24th minute. The next two PCs awarded to Pakistan were traded between Abu Mahmood and Muhammad Irfan Senior and both were denied successful dragflick by an alert Indian defence.
With 2-0 lead, India failed to up the pressure on Pakistan in the following quarters. Though India won two PCs in the 33rd minute, it was not capitalized. Meanwhile Muhammad Irfan Junior worked a splendid field goal for Pakistan in the 39th minute narrowing their deficit to 1-2. It was from here on that Pakistan did everything they could to overwhelm India. They pressed high up, disallowing Indian forwards to create opportunities.
They restricted India’s shot on goals even as they upped their ante in attack winning as many as five PCs in the final quarter of which three of them were brilliantly saved by Sreejesh. “We simply did not play to our potential today. Losing our head in this game gave way to too many unforced errors and we did not play to the rhythm that we usually do,” expressed an evidently disappointed Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne.
India take on Wales in their next game on Sunday and Coach insists that the team should focus on the matches to come. “This is a setback for us, but we need to come-back strong. The leaders in the team need to step up and lead the team by making good on-field decisions and ensure we stick to our game plan,” Marijne said.