| India’s Bimal Lakra (top) fights for the ball with Zeeshan Ashraf of Pakistan in the Champions Trophy match in Cologne Wednesday. (AP/PTI)
Cologne: Playing their best hockey in the tournament so far, India pipped Pakistan 3-2 in a thrilling league match of the Champions Trophy hockey tournament here Wednesday.
After a draw, loss and two successive wins in the six- team tournament, India now have seven points from four matches to climb to the joint second position (back only in goal difference) with The Netherlands behind Germany. India play South Korea in their last league encounter Friday.
In a fast-paced, evenly-balanced match that witnessed brilliant stickwork and classical skills, India found the target through Prabhjot Singh (21st minute) and captain Dilip Tirkey (34th) in the first half while Gagan Ajit Singh scored the third in the 56th minute. Gazanfar Ali (23rd) and Sohail Abbas (56th) scored for Pakistan.
The ball moved from end to end as both sides played attacking hockey. Ultimately, it was the solid defence by the Indians, especially the excellent display by goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan, which clinched the day for India. However, it was play-maker Dhanraj Pillay who stole the show with his amazing runs and brilliant stickwork. At 35, the veteran centre-forward was too good for players nearly half his age and set up India’s first and the third goals.
Pakistan dominated the possession for the first ten minutes and repeatedly made forays into the Indian striking circle, but the defenders did their job well.
Pakistan earned their first penalty corner in the fourth minute but a superb defence from pillay thwarted the attempt.
There was an Indian counter-attack in the next minute and made a very good move but Prabhjot failed to deflect the ball in.
However, the Indians were settling down slowly, and started raiding the Pakistani circle with alarming frequency. There was great
India earned their first penalty corner in the tenth minute and as Dilip Tirkey sold a dummy, Gagan Ajit with space in front shot straight to the Pakistan goalkeeper Ahmed Alam who saved with his pads.
The deadlock was broken in the 21st minute after a classic move by Dhanraj Pillay. The Indian superstar dodged four Pakistani defenders and flicked a pass Prabhjot whose rasping shot beat Alam in the goal.
However, only two minutes later Pakistan got the equaliser. Muhammad Sarwar moved in and gave to Ghazanfar whose weak shot was accidentally deflected into the goal by Indian defender Sukhbir Singh Gill’s stick.
India now maintained possession, despite the constant drizzle. After a few more sharp runs into the Pakistan circle, Gagan Ajit earned India’s third penalty corner in the 34th minute. Going quite against India reputation as corner-missers, it was smashed in by the Indian captain Tirkey —2-1 for India.
Both the teams came on strongly after the break earning two penalty corners each. For India, the hero was Devesh Chauhan as he twice used the gloves to good effect against Sohail Abbas, deflecting the ball away.
It was again Pillay who was instrumental in India earning another goal. The fine move was started on the left flank by Daljit Singh who passed it on to Pillay in the centre. Pillay quickly deflected it to Gagan Ajit who circled around to dodge the advancing Pakistani goalkeeper before releasing the ball from an acute angle.
Trailing 1-3, Pakistan got desperate and increased the pressure on the Indian defence. They earned their fifth penalty corner in the 55th minute and Sohail finally got it right this time. His powerful drag flick beat the diving Chauhan and Pakistan were able to narrow the margin.
Two minutes later, Pakistan came close to scoring again with their sixth penalty corner but this time Chauhan got his gloves in the way and deflected the ball off the right post.
In another match, Germany beat South Korea 2-1.