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India go down fighting to Pakistan

June 01, 2005 20:32 IST

Three-time champions Pakistan survived a late Indian charge to score a 3-2 victory and virtually assure themselves a place in the final of the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

Pakistan fired on all cylinders as their strikers exhibited flair and fluency coupled with supreme athleticism to ring circles around the Indian defence and take commanding 3-0 lead in the first session.

But the Indians fought back gamely in the second period, scoring two goals and missing a penalty-stroke, to redeem themselves and give the scoreline some respectability.

In earlier matches, Australia set themselves on course for a title clash with Pakistan, swamping South Africa 8-3 while hosts Malaysia were drubbed by New Zealand 1-3.

The match of the day, however, was played between the traditional rivals. India again left wide open gaps in the midfield as both Bimal Lakra and Devinder Pal Singh became easy pickings, as was Len Aiyappa in the deep.

Pakistan relished these conditions as they picked and chose their attacks from all directions.

If it was Rehan Butt and Shabbir Husain on the wings, then Shakeel Abbasi and Tariq Aziz moved in tandem down the centre, well fed by midfielders, captain Muhammad Saqlain and Dilawar Husain.

Pakistan made their intentions clear from the beginning and should have shot into the lead in the first minute after

Butt received a long overhead, but could not control his shot within the circle.

They earned three penalty-corners in the first half, taking the lead from the second in the 8th minute when forward Adnan Zakir deflected a soft Mohd. Imran flick.

The Indians looked jaded and disjointed and had hardly a noteworthy attack. There was no teamwork as most players put in individualist efforts.

Rajpal Singh was again tried on the right flank, but his tendency to hold on to the ball too long made matters worse for the eight-time Olympic champions.

Pakistan went further ahead in the 11th minute as skipper Dilip Tirkey and Aiyappa were caught in no-man's land with unmarked Rehan Butt taping in a Shabbir set up.

The Indians tried in vain to reduce the margin as Prabhjot Singh was found wanting on two occasions, first missing a sitter and then finishing meekly for an easy save by Pakistan goalkeeper Salman Akbar.

Inside forward Deepak Thakur also muffed an easy chance to reduce the margin, shooting wide from a Rajpal cross.

Pakistan, breathing down heavily on their rivals neck, got their third goal in the 29th minute when Akhtar Ali drew goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan out and then neatly angled it past him.

Rajpal Singh was the victim of a harsh decision by umpire Tim Pullman of Australia when he was shown the yellow card for stick locking with Dilawar just before the breather, thus reducing India to ten men.

After the crossover, Pakistan looked as if they had lost their sheen a bit as relaxation tendencies crept into their play.

India, during this period, struck their golden patch of the game, first getting a penalty-stroke in the 37th minute.

However, to the disappointment of the big crowd support, Arjun Halappa hit the upright to keep the Pakistan lead intact.

It was Deepak Thakur who reduced the margin to 3-1 after he hit home from India's third penalty-corner.

Propelled by this success, India's attack eventually found some rhythm as Pakistan faltered with unforced errors from defenders Zeeshan Ashraf and Mohd Imran as they conceded four penalty-corners in the last session.

India, for the first time, seemed to have the upper hand and scored their second goal in the 53rd minute when Sandeep Michael deflected an Ignace Tirkey cross.

Excitement mounted all around as India went all out for the equaliser, but the Pakistan defence stood out stoutly to deny their arch rivals a draw.

Pakistan are now on the brink of playing the final, having collected 13 points so far. They only need a draw in their last fixture against hosts Malaysia on Friday to go through to Sunday's final.

India will play Olympic champions Australia in their last outing, also on Friday. They have four points and in all probability play for the fifth and sixth slots.

On Thursday, title aspirants South Korea will clash with New Zealand.


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