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Inspired India swamp Pakistan

Ivan Crasto | August 22, 2003 21:38 IST
Last Updated: August 23, 2003 01:13 IST

India saved their best for their last league match to rout Pakistan 7-4 in the Champions Trophy hockey tournament at the Wagener Stadium, in Amstelveen, near Amsterdam, on Friday.

The Indian forwardline, conspicuous by its innocuous showing in the previous four matches, came alive -- and how! -- to fashion a memorable triumph over their arch-rivals.

Gagan Ajit Singh recovered his goalscoring instinctsDown 2-4 by the seventh minute of the second session, the Indians, led by a superlative display by young Jugraj Singh in defence, staged a magnificent recovery to score five goals in the second period, three of which came in a frenzied five-minute attacking spell just 10 minutes from the end.

India-Pakistan matches, whether in cricket or in hockey, are always special. And this one was no different. The atmosphere at the stadium was electric.

India had nothing at stake but pride, while Pakistan had to win to seal a place in the final. By the 20th minute it looked as if Pakistan would reach the final after all as they gained control of the match and established a 2-0 lead.

But the three-time champions and all the others who had written India off had not taken into account the fighting qualities of one man: Jugraj Singh. Besides goading the team on, he was brilliant in blunting Sohail Abbas from penalty corners while himself scoring twice from the setpiece drill.

The Indians looked more purposeful than they had in previous games, but initially found Pakistan's firepower too much. Pakistan went straight into attack after captain Dhanraj Pillay lost possession near the half line right after the start. Mudassar Ali pounced on the ball and broke away into the circle with some dazzling stickwork, only to be tripped by Kanwalpreet Singh. But Jugraj took Sohail Abbas's flick off the resultant penalty corner on his thigh and was forced to leave the field for medical attention.

The ball swung to the Pakistani half immediately and Pillay made a threatening run to force India's first penalty corner. But the drill was messed up, though Ignace Tirkey, who retrieved the ball, did well to have a shy at goal with a reverse flick.

Pakistan immediately forced their second penalty corner in the sixth minute, but all Abbas could do was flick over in the face of a fearless charge from Jugraj Singh, who was back on the field.

But Pakistan scored from their third penalty corner in the 18th minute. Instead of Abbas, the ball was pushed to Ali Raza, who relayed from the top of the circle to the right post, where Rehan Butt threw himself forward to deflect home past a goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan.

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Two minutes later, Pakistan went two goals up when Nadeem Ahmad picked up a terrible pass from Bimal Lakra, slipped through two defenders with a neat dribble, and essayed a brilliant reverse hit to the roof of the net, leaving goalkeeper Chauhan rooted.

India pulled a goal back from their second penalty corner when Jugraj Singh scored in the 24th minute with a fierce drag-flick to the left of 'keeper Ahmad Alam.

But the Pakistanis continued their relentless surge for goals and Mudassar Ali came up with a neat deflection at the far post after Nadeem Ahmad had drilled a 30 yard-long hit into the circle.

A minute from the breather, Jugraj Singh brought India back into the match off India's third penalty corner. He released the flick only after the Pakistan defenders had rushed out and beat 'keeper Ahmad Alam again, this time to his right.

Pakistan came back into the second half determined not to let go of the one-goal advantage they had taken into the breather and applied relentless pressure on the Indian goal. With quick releases of the ball they had the Indian defence in tattters. And within seven minutes they increased their tally when Mudassar forced a penalty corner, Pakistan's sixth. This time Abbas made no mistake with a low flick. Jugraj Singh was off the field at this time, getting treated for yet another blow on his thigh.

With a two-goal cushion the Pakistani defence chose to use the long aerial ball to release preasure and upset the rhythm of the Indian forwards, who had thrown caution to the wind and started attacking. The ploy backfired as the Indians were able to break away more often.

In the 51th minute, a swift counterattack from a long clearance saw India make it 3-4. It came following their first penalty corner of the second half and the fourth of the match. Jugraj Singh was unable to execute his flick cleanly and pushed the ball through a host of defenders' feet. An alert Baljit Singh Dhillon trapped the ball and laid it near the goalline for Deepak Thakur to sweep home.

The goal spurred the Indians into a frenzied attacking spell. Pillay was unlucky to see his shot following a good run down the right hit the side of the cage a minute later.

But another counteroffensive, when Jugraj laid a long through pass to Thakur, who turned and despatched the ball across the goalmouth, saw Prabhjot Singh slam home in style to level the scores 4-4.

That was in the 55th minute. Then came the best spell of the tournament so far for the Indians. They used both flanks, something they had not done well in their previous matches, to draw the Pakistani defenders out and press for the kill. Within five minutes they scored thrice more, the hardworking Gagan Ajit Singh getting two of those goals in the 60th and 61st minutes with unbelievable reverse hits, and Deepak Thakur rounding off the tally in the 65th.

These three goals flattened the Pakistanis. They simply failed to regroup after that as the Indians intelligently held possession and played out the final minutes.

Following this stunning victory, India now has a chance to play for the third place should Australia beat Argentina by a big enough margin.

Pakistan, for their part, will be ruing their luck. They were on the threshold of making it to the final for only the second time outside the subcontinent. Now they will have to play for third place, where, perhaps, they will run into India again.

Match summary:
India 7
(Jugraj Singh 2, Deepak Thakur 2, Prabhjot Singh, Gagan Ajit Singh 2) beat Pakistan 4 (Rehan Butt, Nadeem Ahmad, Mudassar Ali, Sohail Abbas).

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