Just 30 seconds to go in regulation time and despite Chinese armed with a Penalty corner, Pakistan could have been excused for thinking that they had wrapped up the semifinal match at Doha 1-0. At least, Pakistani supporters were celebrating.
Only if wishes were horses. A superb indirect conversion by China gave the outsiders a new lease of life. As the ball from indirect corner was angled in by Lu Fenghui, even Chinese looked rattled and elated at the same time. It was an unbelievable sight of celebration and disbelief.
And few minutes later, the Pakistani dream of making to the final of Asiad after a gap of 16 years, and fighting for Gold, lay in tatters as China celebrated their biggest hockey triumph. In fact, the second in less than a week.
Has the power scenario once again changed in Hockey. Looks so with the strong performances put in by Korea, China and Japan at Doha, and dismal show from India, Pakistan and Malaysia.
In fifties, sixties and seventies, India and Pakistan ruled the Asian hockey, invariably fighting for gold. That was granted considering they were the superpowers at the World level too. But rapid strides by South Korea in the eighties swiftly changed the equation.
The first major upset happened in 1986 when as hosts, Korea turned the Asian hockey upside down by beating India and Pakistan to Asiad Gold. It may have been a stunning news for the World Hockey, but the cracks were visible long before that. At the world level, India had ceased to be a force to reckon with.
Now two decades later, same feat has been replicated by China, only that they may still be upstaged by Korea, who beat Japan in the other semifinal.
The Chinese performance was no flash in the pan. The gusty display of this fast emerging Asian side, coached by a Korean, found echo in post match statement of Pakistan skipper Rehan Butt who refused to blame his players for the defeat while praising the rivals saying ??the Chinese defense was very good??.
Strangely Rehan, the much admired Pakistani with looks of a film star, also said that we played on 'equal level to the Chinese team' and a few counters from Chinese defense-oriented game made all the difference.
Pakistan fighting on equal terms with a Chinese team! These words must start alarm bells ringing all over the subcontinent.
Rehan?s assessment of a match, where Pakistan failed to convert its dominance into victory, also makes it clear that India?s defeat by Chinese was no stroke of bad luck. Simply, the underrated Chinese were more enterprising in defense and opportunistic in attack in all their matches. That paid rich dividends.
It is unlikely to think that any Indian would be celebrating Pakistan?s moment of massive despair. After all, generally it is great relief if our archrival also lose to the same team we surrender to.
Probably hockey does not matter any more. Not many, if any, Parliamentarians have taken note of India?s failure to finish on an Asiad podium for the first time in history. And so much hue and cry is made for any man-made disaster in cricket.
Still, the two boards must sit up and take notice of the new threats. After Tuesday?s surrender by Pakistan, the subcontinent is no longer the bastion of Asian hockey. Whether KPS removes another coach or not.
In the last month of 2006, the power centre looks to have decisively shifted towards the Far East with Japan, China emerging as the new superpowers ? 20 years after the advent of the ever-energetic South Koreans.