On a pleasant, breezy Sunday night, cheered by a crowd of over 10,000 at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium, the Indian hockey team did something they last did four years ago, at the same stage — they won a major multinational tournament (apart from the Afro-Asian Games) against some tough opponents, having played some exhilarating hockey over 10 days.
<b1>As the final hooter sounded to end the Asia Cup final against South Korea, the atmosphere was electric. Almost surreal. The Indian players went about draped in the tricolour, savouring an experience they had perhaps forgotten. The national anthem played, and the sweat-drenched bunch of 18 Men in Blue was still --- perhaps they needed the stillness to be convinced of their achievement.
Once that happened, it was time to celebrate. Ironically for a team that was supposed to have a weak attack, India slammed seven against a strong Korean side that disintegrated in no time.
India's tally of 57 goals in the event is the highest for any team. And the defence, called inexperienced and ageing at the same time, was like a wall which the Koreans found unbreakable.
India's maiden victory at the Asia Cup in 2003 came at a time when Indian hockey was on a high. This victory, on the other hand, could perhaps be seen as heralding a new beginning.
The game had a now-familiar start in the tournament --- Shivendra Singh proved himself again with the opener in the third minute. Prabhjot Singh announced his final redemption with some brilliant runs, accurate crosses and selfless passing. Ignace Tirkey, hero of the 2003 final against Pakistan, relived that memory with another similar effort, this time giving the finishing touch to Prabhjot's brilliance. But, even at the risk of seeming a spoilsport, and taking no credit away from the Indians, it was surprising to see Korea play a lethargic game, at least in the first half. They erred in trapping the ball, they were off-target in their passing and they hardly attacked. In fact, they almost appeared to be slowing down the game, a rare occurrence with the speedy Koreans.
With India leading 3-1 at half time, there was a minor scuffle between the teams. When India scored their fourth goal even as their opponents were protesting a decision, the Koreans walked off the field, returning after five minutes. They did try to pick the pace and attack more but the Indians were on a roll and there was no stopping them. After a long time, Indian hockey gave its followers a reason to smile.
Malaysia clinch bronze
Malaysia edged Japan 5-3 to finish third, and on the podium for the first time in the event. Malaysia conceded a goal in the second minute but then slammed five goals in a row.
In the 5-6th place playoff, China scored a winner in the dying minutes to relegate Pakistan to the sixth place with a 3-2 win. In other classification matches, Bangladesh beat Hong Kong to finish seventh while Sri Lanka finished ninth with a 6-0 win over Singapore.