Asian Champions Trophy: India knock out Pakistan, face Japan in semis
Harmanpreet (15th, 23rd) scored a brace while Jugraj (36th) and Akashdeep (55th) scored one each to extend India’s unbeaten run against Pakistan to 16 matches
The buzz could not just be felt but seen as fans – many with the tricolour painted on their cheeks – waited in long queues to enter the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium on Wednesday. Those not lucky enough to get tickets were scouting to get them, even in black.
Emotions were running high not just on the pitch but off it too as people jostled and argued for their favoured spot in the 9,000-seater stadium. Nobody wanted to miss a moment, not even Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Sports Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin or India cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin, all of whom were in attendance to watch the spectacle. Currently not in the team, India forward Lalit Upadhyay justified the vibe: “Today’s the night. It is India vs Pakistan.”
However, unequal the rivalry may have been of late, all the squabbles and disagreements were worth the money and effort as the Chennai crowd witnessed what they had come for. India hammered Pakistan 4-0 to top the league stage of the Asian Champions Trophy with 13 points and knockout their rivals out of the six-team tournament.
Skipper and ace-drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh (15th, 23rd) delivered when it mattered most, scoring a brace while Jugraj Singh (36th) and Akashdeep Singh (55th) scored one each to extend India’s unbeaten run against Pakistan to 16 matches.
Malaysia finished second with 12 points ahead of South Korea (5) and Japan (5) with the defending champions ahead on goal difference. India will face fourth-placed Japan in the semi-final on Friday while Malaysia will take on holders Korea.
The hosts showed why they are ranked No.4, completely overpowering their once nemesis throughout the 60-minute contest. India dispossessed Pakistan at their will, made regular circle entries and had many chances to not just score one or two but many more goals which the forward line could not convert. India earned five penalty corners to Pakistan’s two out of which they converted three while world No.16 Pakistan failed to convert from both of their short corner attempts.
“It was a good show from the boys. Field goals are not a worry for us. We need to score more goals but the results are coming through PCs and it takes the efforts of the strikers to earn those penalty corners,” India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh said after the match.
A Pakistan counterattack silenced the crowd early in the second minute which looked like the first goal of the match but India’s referral decision saw the goal being overturned. The ball went over the line after touching the chest of talented Pakistani striker Abdul Shahid Hannan. However, it was a PC but Muhammad Khan failed to convert as Krishan Bahadur Pathak directed the ball outwards with his stick.
From that point on, it was largely a one-way show with India holding position and attacking the Pakistani circle constantly. Pakistan goalkeeper Akmal Hussain did his best to keep a clean slate for most of the first quarter, doing what his defenders couldn’t, thwarting off multiple attempts by Sukhjeet Singh, Karthi Selvam, Akashdeep among others in the forward line but India’s first penalty corner did the trick as Harmanpreet slid in the ball to put India on the board.
On the eve of the match, Pakistan coach Muhammad Saqlain had said that India’s PC battery is the best in the world. If they want to stand any chance of winning against the Craig Fulton-led outfit, they would have to stop their drag-flickers.
Saqlain did not get his wish as Harmanpreet, after scoring in the final minute of the first quarter, also hammered in his second to take his overall tally to seven, the highest in the tournament. The bullet-like drag went through a small gap between Hussain and his right post to double India’s lead.
Pakistan tried their best on counterattacks, coming close once when Sreejesh made a very important save to help India maintain a clean slate. The visitors tried to come up with new variations in their bid to enter the Indian circle but the hosts kept them at bay and were brilliant with the counterattacks.
The second goal rattled Pakistan. They could stop India from earning two more PCs. Harmanpreet had changed his angle now, attacking from the second drag-flick battery. But both shots were stopped.
At the start of the second half, India earned their fifth and final PC. Harmanpreet was not on the field but that didn’t matter Jugraj scored India’s third. India started taking many more chances and made many more incisive runs at this point.
Some fantastic balls from deep in defence could have resulted in goals too but India proved to be slightly wasteful in the final quarter, missing several close chances. They were finally able to convert their fourth and final goal when Akashdeep scored his second even as the body language of the Pakistani outfit looked defeated and deflated.