| Daljit Dhillon after scoring Indiaís third goal against Pakistan Thursday
Busan, Oct. 10: India and Pakistan have a tradition of producing fast-paced entertainers. The script at the Gangseo Hockey Stadium didnít unfold any differently Thursday as India came up trumps in a seven-goal thriller to make the Asian Games final.
In a repeat of the 1998 Bangkok Games, India will clash with South Korea for the gold on Saturday. The hosts converted two penalty corners to get past Malaysia in the first semi-final.
Dhanraj Pillay was the chief architect of this famous victory, scoring twice and setting up the winner for Gagan Ajit Singh. Daljit Singh Dhillon, who has now scored in every game, got the third goal.
Pakistan, always doing the chasing, got a brace through Sohail Abbasí power-packed penalty corner hits. Saqlain Muhammad got the third. There was no time for Pakistan to restore parity a fourth time as Gagan Ajitís gem came three minutes from full time.
ďI havenít seen a better goal than that,Ē was Pillayís compliment to the 22-year-old forward.
Pillay trapped a ball near the Pakistan half-line and waited a moment before releasing it. Gagan Ajit, who seemed to know exactly what Pillay had in mind, rushed in, stopped the ball a metre outside the D and seeing goalkeeper Qasim Muhammad leave charge, scoop-lobbed the ball home with deadly accuracy.
Two card-happy umpires, Australian Murray Grime and Korean Cheung Chak-Tung marred the game. Three Indians (Daljit, Deepak Thakur and Dilip Tirkey) and one Pakistani (Saqlain) were given temporary suspension. What hurt Pakistan most was the red card flashed at Muhammad Nadeem, 10 minutes into the second session.
India went in front after five minutes when Pillay deflected a Jugraj Singh free-hit with the deftest of touches. Sohail Abbas equalised four minutes later, sweeping Pakistanís first penalty corner high and to the right of Devesh Chauhan.
Bimal Lakra and Jugraj stitched together a skilful move in the 21st minute. As Gagan Ajitís shot ricocheted off a defenderís stick, Pillay was at hand to push the ball in.
Pillay now has 18 goals against Pakistan ó an Indian record.
Once again, the Indian lead didnít last long. Sohail did the damage again, with a similar swept-drive off the teamís third penalty corner.
India squandered three penalty corners before utilising one. For once, the stop was perfect, but Jugraj couldnít control well. His feeble shot was half cleared. The ball rolled over to Daljit who pushed it in easily.
Pakistan had a goal disallowed and Nadeem sent off for good following a harsh tackle on Thakur. Four minutes from the final hooter, Pakistan made it 3-3 raising visions of Cologne where India let in three late goals to lose the bronze medal play-off. Saqlain exquisitely patted in a cross from Kashif Jawaid past Chauhan.
Time was running out. Then came the moment of magic created by Pillay and Gagan Ajit. It was a goal worth travelling miles to watch.
Pakistan had played with 10 men for about 15 minutes. But the truth was, India were the better side on the day. They created several openings while the defence denied Pakistan forwards a look at goal but for once.
There was some dazzling individual play from captain Muhammad Sarwar and Ghazanfar Ali, but as far as cohesion was concerned, the Indians were much better. Pillay was all over the park ó helping the defence, snatching balls from his own half, taking up the right positions at the other end and passing with flawless accuracy.
There were other stand-out performances too. Goalkeeper Chauhan was beaten twice but kept out Abbasí shots thereafter. Dilip Tirkey and Kanwalpreet Singh were sound in defence, Ignace Tirkey was the best of the half-backs.
If there was one drawback, it was the same old story of making a mess of penalty corners. Six of those came Indiaís way and just one was used ó that too a trifle fortunately.