Vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh scored a brace as Olympic bronze-medallists India defeated arch-rivals Pakistan 3-1 to register their second consecutive win and virtually qualify for the semifinals of the Asian Champions Trophy men’s hockey tournament on Friday. Harmanpreet (8th, 53rd minutes) converted two penalty corners, while comeback-man Akashdeep Singh, who couldn’t make the Tokyo Olympics squad, found the net from a field effort in the 42nd minute for his second goal of the tournament.
Pakistan’s lone goal was scored by Junaid Manzoor in the 45th minute.
It was India’s second win in the tournament after their 9-0 drubbing of hosts Bangladesh, while Pakistan are still winless, having drawn goal-less against Japan in their opening match.
India had earlier drawn 2-2 against Korea in their tournament opener.
India are currently leading the points table with seven points from three games and will take on Japan in their last round-robin match of the five-team tournament on Sunday.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have just one point from two games.
India and Pakistan were the joint winners in the last edition of the tournament in Muscat after the final was washed out.
The Indians completely dominated possession in the first two quarters while Pakistan preferred to sit back. But they defended admirably save for Harmanpreet’s lone strike.
The play was mostly on the Pakistan half in the first two quarters as Indians pressed hard from the onset and created a couple of chances but credit must go to goalkeeper Mazar Abbas who was brilliant overall.
But expectedly, it was India who took the lead in the eighth minute when Harmanpreet converted the team’s first penalty corner with a powerful low flick to the left of the Pakistan goalie.
Four minutes later, skipper Manpreet Singh’ deflection from outside the circle was saved by an alert Abbas.
The second quarter continued in the same manner as India made numerous inroads but the Pakistan defence was upto the task.
While Pakistan defence stood out, the team’s forward line looked unimpressive as it failed to register a single shot on the goal or secure a penalty corner.
Leading 1-0 at half time, the Indians kept up the pressure on the Pakistan goal and increased their lead in the 42nd minute when Akashdeep slapped in Sumit’s drive from the left flank with a reverse hit.
But the fighting Pakistanis didn’t give up hope and upped their game from here on, reducing the margin 27 seconds from the end of the third quarter through Manzoor’s diving deflection from Abdul Rana’s pass.
If the first three quarters belonged to India, Pakistan gave Manpreet and his men a run for their money in the final quarter, which produced end-to-end enthralling hockey.
Pumped up by the goal, Pakistan went on the offensive and secured their first penalty corner of the tournament in the 47th minute, which was rejected after India asked for the referral.
Pakistan didn’t lose hope and continued to press hard and secured two more penalty corners in quick succession but young Indian custodian Suraj Karkera made two brilliant saves to keep his side’s lead intact.
In between, India secured their second penalty corner and once again Harmanpreet was precision personified with his drag-flick.
India earned another penalty corner just three minutes from the final hooter but Varun Kumar’s effort was saved by the Pakistan goalkeeper.
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