Asiad hockey: India beats Pakistan to bronze medal

Atiq Muhammad halved India's two-goal lead with eight minutes left to play, but Pakistan couldn't find an equaliser.

Akashdeep Singh (2nd R) is hugged by teammates after scoring the goal that gave India the bronze medal in men's hockey.   -  AFP

They were pre-tournament favourites expected to clash for the title but India and Pakistan faced-off here on Saturday for a consolation third place, India winning 2-1. For the houseful crowd, though, it didn’t matter and the teams, true to their reputation, played out perhaps the best match of the competition.

With India and Pakistan, the performance is as important as the result. There can be no dull periods, no defensive play and no holding back, regardless of the situation. It results in exciting, non-stop action for 60 minutes with fortunes changing as quickly as ball possession.

On Saturday, Pakistan brought all its intensity to the field, as did India, both out to prove a point after semifinal upsets to less-fancied Malaysia and Japan. This was India’s third bronze medal in Asiad. Pakistan finished out of the medal bracket for only 2nd time in Asiad, after 2002.

India got its opening goal in the third minute itself, Akashdeep deflecting in a Lalit Upadhyay pass into the net. That set the template for the remaining 57 minutes with little to separate the two sides.

India had 15 shots at goal compared to 14 for Pakistan. India had two penalty corners to Pakistan’s three. The goalkeepers from both sides were kept busy and the defence stretched. The Indians, bunched together and listless in the semifinal, were a rejuvenated lot. They made good use of accurate aerial balls and opened up space from the flanks.

As it happened

The Indian defence was impeccable in its clearances, specially Harmanpreet Singh who also scored, but left a lot to be desired in its marking. Pakistan forwards Ali Shan, Mohammed Atiq and Mohammed Dilber took advantage but ended up shooting wide before Atiq finally got one into the net. But unlike in the past, when it would have gone haywire trying to equalise, it kept its structure all through, credit for which must go to coach Roelant Oltmans.

There were still concerns, though. Pakistan’s defence was suspect but India’s forwards did nothing to make use of it. They were kept well-fed, often with just the goalkeeper to beat, but could not get past Imran Butt. They held on to the ball just a tad longer and questions would be raised on the accuracy and efficacy of seniors like Sardar Singh, SV Sunil and Rupinder Pal Singh.

But coach Harendra Singh insisted he was proud of his team and applauded both sides for showing character in such an intense showdown. Oltmans was satisfied too with the way his team kept its structure and created chances in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

Pakistan captain Rizwan Ali said India were lucky to win, but his team was getting closer and PR Sreejesh said the team had learnt its lessons and was satisfied to finish on a winning note and take this as a morale-booster ahead of the Asian Champions Trophy and the World Cup.

After the intense encounter, the final between Malaysia and Japan was quite one-sided in comparison, Malaysia winning its maiden Asiad title to end Japan’s unexpected run and book an Olympic ticket for the first time since 2000. Japan already has the host spot.