Penalty corner specialist Sandeep Singh
SANDEEP Singh scored two goals as India stormed into the Asian Games men’s hockey semi-finals with a 3-2 win over Pakistan on Saturday (November 20), their fourth success over Pakistan this year.
The penalty corner specialist slammed one in each half and Dharamvir Singh chipped in with the third goal as India recorded their third consecutive win in group B after an action-packed encounter.
India have nine points ahead of Sunday (November 21)’s last league match against Japan, who are level with Pakistan on six points each.
India beat Pakistan 4-1 at the World Cup in March, won 4-2 in the Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia in May and hammered the rivals 7-4 at last month’s Commonwealth Games.
“Winning four times in a row does not matter, this is not a series,” said Indian captain Rajpal Singh. “What is more important for me is that we play well in every match.
“Our strategy was simple. We had to attack from the start and not give Pakistan too many penalty corners.”
Pakistan’s lone penalty corner, which came in the 58th minute, did not succeed as Indian goalkeeper Bharat Chetri leaped in the air to deflect Sohail Abbas’ stinging drag flick.
Pakistan captain Zeeshan Ashraf blasted the umpiring, saying poor decisions throughout the match cost his team the match.
“The umpires made the difference,” he said. “We should have got at least three or four more penalty corners.“I don’t think there is any difference between the two teams. It was a close game that could have gone either way.
“India also got only three scoring chances in the entire game, but they converted all.”
Pakistan’s Dutch coach Michel van den Heuvel, who watched the match from the stands, argued with the umpires and technical officials after the final whistle.
Zeeshan denied Pakistan will protest, but wanted his team to recover quickly from the defeat and prepare for the rest of the tournament.
“The main thing is we are still in contention for the gold medal,” he said. “We will bounce back.”
The match, watched by some 1,000 fans at the small Aoti Hockey Centre, began on a rousing note as Sandeep put India ahead in the second minute and striker Rehan Butt drew level for Pakistan in the fourth.
India took a 2-1 lead by half-time as Dharamvir swooped on a pass from the centre to flick the ball past the rushing goalkeeper Salman Akbar in the 16th minute.
An error from Indian defender Dhananjay Mahadik, who failed to clear a loose ball, allowed veteran Shakeel Abbasi to net Pakistan’s equaliser eight minutes into the second session.
India earned their second penalty corner five minutes later and Sandeep once again executed a perfect flick to make it 3-2.
Pakistan, who won the last of their seven Asian Games gold medals in Beijing in 1990, have not bagged a major title since the World Cup triumph in Sydney in 1994.
They face Bangladesh on Sunday, needing a win to move into the semi-finals.
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