Goalkeeper S Sreejesh stole the limelight with two crucial saves as India defeated arch-rivals Pakistan 4-2 via penalty shootout in a nerve-wrecking final to clinch the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament in Ordos (China) on Sunday.
The high-voltage summit clash was marred by Pakistan coach’s unwarranted action of constantly abusing Indian players from the roof of the stadium. Whenever there was an infringement from the Indian side, he used the ‘F’ word liberally. And whenever the umpires blew against India, he hollered ‘Thank You’.
Rajpal Singh, Danish Mujtaba, Yuvraj Walmiki and Sarvanjit Singh scored for India in the penalty shootout while Muhammad Rizwan and Waseem Ahmed sounded the board for Pakistan after both the sides were locked goalless in the normal and extra time.India started the shootout on a wrong note when Pakistan goalkeeper Imran Shah saved the shot from Gurwinder Singh Chandi. Sreejesh then came to the fore with a save off Haseem Abdul Khan. It was then Mujtaba’s turn and he neatly sent the ball past Shah to give India 1-0 lead.
Pakistan equalised when Rizwan scored but Indian captain Rajpal slotted the ball home to give his side 2-1 up. Then came the crucial save by Sreejesh as he stopped Shafqat Rasool from scoring, advancing and taking the shot on the pads.
Yuvraj made it 3-1 and the Pakistan veteran Waseem cut the scores to 3-2 but Sarvanjit’s conversion past Shah ensured India ran out champions.
Earlier in the match, both India and Pakistan had ample opportunities to finish off the match in regulation time. Pakistan earned seven penalty corners to India’s one but they failed to beat the Indian defence and the goalkeeper Sreejesh.
Asian Games champions Pakistan were initially more attacking pushing the Indian defence back. Shakeel Abassi made some fine runs into the Indian striking circle but V Raghunath stood out with his tackling and clearances.
The Indian forwards had a couple of counter-attacks which the Pakistan defence managed to clear. It was a tense match with a few skirmishes between the players. SV Sunil was the first to be shown the green card for a rough tackle.
Pakistan had their first penalty corner in the 14th minute which Sreejesh charged out and saved.
India was losing the ball consistently in the midfield. The players were hasty and failed to keep the ball to ensure the passes went right.
In the 29th minute, India had their first penalty corner but Ignace Tirkey failed to trap properly and thus wasting the opportunity.
Pakistan had a bunch of penalty corners in the second half and they were to blame themselves for letting the match drift to the shoot-out. They could not score off the 41st, 47th and 48th minute penalty corners.
With 14 minutes of regulation time left, India got a golden chance with Mujtaba having only Pakistan goalkeeper in front but could not place the ball in and shot wide. In the 60th and 62nd minutes, Pakistan again wasted three penalty corners.
India could have clinched the issue in the 65th minute but Yuvraj shot out from a handshaking distance.
After a tense struggle in 15 minutes of extra time, it finally came down to the shootout in which Sreejesh carried his good form and ensured India return champions.
Indian coach Michael Nobbs was almost in tears and said, “This is a great win. Both teams played well and had enough chances. But it is fantastic to see a young Indian side win such a prestigious tournament.”
Indian forwards performed well in the tournament and that was reflected in the +7 goal difference that the team enjoys in the league stage.
India’s newly-appointed coach Michael Nobbs has tasted success in his first major assignment.