Kuantan (Malaysia): Favourites India prevailed 3-2 over arch-rivals Pakistan to reclaim the Asian Champions Trophy hockey, presenting a perfect Diwali gift to the nation on Sunday.
Goals from Rupinder Pal Singh (18th minute), Yousuf Affan (23rd) and Nikkin Thimmaiah (51st) helped India surmount the challenge from Pakistan, who rallied from two goals behind through strikes by Muhammad Aleem Bilal (26th) and Ali Shaan (38th) in the title clash of the fourth edition of tournament.
This was the first time the teams were meeting in the final of a continental tournament since India dethroned Pakistan as the Asian Games champions in Incheon, South Korea in 2014.
India had won the inaugural edition of the Asian Champions Trophy by defeating Pakistan in the final in 2011.
Pakistan reversed the result in the title contest the next year and went on to retain it in 2013 by defeating Japan in the final.
World No. 6 India went into the title contest at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium without ace custodian PR Sreejesh, who was rested due to pulled hamstring and Akash Chikte took the position under the bar.
India scored the first goal in the 18th minute on their second penalty corner as Rupinder sent a rasping drag-flick into the left side of the net. This was the 11 penalty corner conversion in the tournament by Rupinder, the highest goal-scorer in the tournament by a big margin.
In the 23rd minute, Ramandeep Singh’s cross was deflected in by Yousuf Affan into the boards to put India 2-0 up.
Under pressure, Pakistan responded by forcing their first penalty corner, which was converted by Muhammad Aleem Bilal in the 26th minute. Bilal sounded the boards with a low drag-flick that beat the goalkeeper.
Pakistan defence had no trouble in warding away India’s attempts to send long diagonal balls into the circle and capitalised on a lapse by the Indian defence to draw 2-2 parity in the 38th minute. Ali Shan wasted no time in slapping the ball that had got deflected to him inside the scoring zone.
India wrested the lead back in the 51st minute as seasoned Indian midfielder Sardar Singh gave a through pass to Thimmaiah, who beat Pakistan custodian Fareed Ahmed with a diagonal flick that ended inside the right goal-post.