Asian Champions Trophy: Harmanpreet Singh scores brace as India defeat arch-rivals Pakistan | Hockey - Hindustan Times
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Harmanpreet’s brace helps India coast past Pakistan

By, New Delhi
Dec 17, 2021 05:40 PM IST

Comeback-man Akashdeep Singh too scores as Tokyo bronze medallists win 3-1

On any other day, in any other competition, an encounter of this magnitude would have perhaps drawn the hype it deserves. The immediate context was no less tantalising: A day after India and Bangladesh celebrated latter’s 50th year of liberation, India and Pakistan’s men’s hockey teams met in the Bangladeshi capital to renew their storied rivalry. The Orwellian concept of sports being a war minus the shooting never felt more relevant.

Indian men's hockey team(Twitter/Hockey India)
Indian men's hockey team(Twitter/Hockey India)

In 176 encounters between the sides before this Friday, Pakistan led India 82-62. The last 35 matches, however, had India nosing ahead with a 19-16 scoreline.

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Delicious as it sounds, this historical and immediate context would have made better sense if the gulf between the neighbours was not as gaping. India cruised to a 3-1 win, riding on a brace of short corner conversions from Harmanpreet Singh and a delightfully poached goal from Akashdeep Singh. For Pakistan, Junaid Manzoor pulled one back in the 45th minute.

Manpreet Singh’s men enjoyed clear domination on all metrics. They had more shots on goal (8 attempts to Pakistan’s 3), more circle entries (20 to 12), better possession (59% to 41%), and a better penalty corner (PC) conversion — India converted two of the three PCS; Pakistan failed to convert any of their two.

 

Statistics aside, the Siegfried Aikman-coached Pakistan were no match to India’s relentless pressing and attacking game. Their early attempts to put India under pressure were blunted by a resolute defence.

Sumit’s defensive tackle in the first quarter initiated an Indian counterattack that led to a PC after Mubashir Ali tackled Harmanpreet from behind. The 25-year-old, who could only convert one of his seven attempted drag flicks against Bangladesh, calmly slotted one past goalkeeper Mazhar Abbas to put the Tokyo bronze medallists ahead in the ninth minute.

India almost doubled the lead soon after when skipper Manpreet Singh received a pass from Harmanpreet inside the Pakistani circle but his deft deflection was beautifully saved by the opposing custodian.

Abbas, in fact, continued his fine form, bringing out a number of blocks from close range, his twin saves of Dilpreet Singh and Raj Kumar Pal in the second quarter standing out. He would later save a Varun Kumar drag flick off India’s third PC to cap a satisfactory match, but those were only specks of brilliance on a largely ordinary day for Pakistan.

Skipper Umar Bhutta and Ali Shaan made some encouraging runs and Mubashir Ali expertly tracked and tackled a potentially dangerous run from Shilanand Lakra later but Pakistan lacked a cohesive structure.

Akashdeep Singh, on a comeback trail after being ignored for the Tokyo Olympics, scored in his second successive game. The move began with Lakra seizing possession at the halfline and going on a lung-busting run on the left, penetrating the circle and passing to Sumit who showed remarkable balance and composure to let go a pin-point reverse hit to Akashdeep at the far post. A clinical tap-in sent India to a 2-0 lead in the 42nd minute.

The fourth quarter saw Pakistan amping up their attack. There were multiple appeals for PCs from Pakistan and a few close shaves for India. It was India who came close to increasing their lead when Akashdeep received a defence-splitting pass from Lalit Upadhyay inside the Pakistan ‘D’, but his deflection went wide.

Goalkeeper Suraj Karkera produced a fine save from Mubashir Ali from close range before denying Pakistan on both their PCs. India converted theirs in the 54th minute via a rasping flick from Harmanpreet to put the result beyond doubt.

Man of the Match Harmanpreet said: “I think we missed a few opportunities in the first quarter. Also, there were a few green cards today as well, so these are two areas we’d like to look at.”

India next play Japan on December 19.

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