New Delhi, 14 December 2013: An exciting match between the neighbouring arch-rivals India and Pakistan, though it was for finishing first in bottom half of 16 teams (i.e. 9th place) at the Hero Hockey Junior World Cup 2013, attracted a size-able crowd of more than 5000 in the 16000 sitting capacity Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, New Delhi.
As anticipated the match turned out be nerve wrecking and had to be decided on shoot-out, which Mazhar Abbas won for his team saving the attempts of Imran Khan and Satbir Singh in shoot-out. It was Pakistan, who had taken early lead through a field goal but Indian drag flick specialist brought his team on level terms as he scored his 6th goal of the tournament with just four minutes to final hooter.
Indian coach Gregg Clark said, “today’s performance was really disappointing. Team was under pressure and did not handle it properly. There was lot of gap in performance. Team was not able to dribble the ball, our defence was weak and circle penetration was weak. We slipped on the quality of game execution and our strategy was not good either.”
Both teams were eager to get into action and the flag waving crowd was roaring in anticipation. The Indians, sporting their new bright yellow kit, rushed forward from the opening whistle. They created a few chances but, as too often in this competition, were too hasty in trying to conclude. They were surprised in the 7th minute when Pakistani Muhammad Dilber received the ball behind their defense and calmly passed it to Rizwan Ali left totally unmarked in the middle of the circle for an easy push in goal.
India tried to come back quickly but, encouraged by the crowd, were pushing their runs a tad too far, making it difficult for themselves to deliver useful passes. Pakistani goal-keeper Mazhar Abbas handled well some hot situations and Pakistan weathered the Indian storm calmly, dashing forward in bold counter-attacks each time they had an opening.
India were close, even very close, on multiple occasions but could not manage to slot one in goal and Pakistan were still holding their fragile one-goal lead going into the break.
The same pattern of play continued in second period, with India persisting in trying to penetrate the well regrouped Pakistani defense with individual runs. They had to rely on playing to the foot of a defender to earn a penalty-corner, but Gurjinder Singh’s high flick was calmly deflected by Mazhar Abbas.
The Pakistani players were on par with the Indians for individual skills, but playing more collectively, connecting well with each other in defense and in attack. The Indians players were inconsistent, displaying great skills to undress defenders but then sending their next pass astray.
Pakistan were saved once more by their keeper on a violent shot by Akashdeep Singh from the top of the circle. The crowd was getting impatient and the Indian players more and more nervous. They finally earned another penalty-corner in a messy scramble in the goal-mouth with five minutes left in the match and this time Gurjinder Singh managed to slot his low flick out of reach of the goal-keeper, tying the proceeding and sending the crowd in ecstatic raptures.
The final minutes were played in a wild atmosphere but score remained tied and the outcome of the game had to be decided by a shoot-out competition, an exciting prospect with such individually talented players. The two goal-keepers saved one attempt each, but Satbir Singh missed for India and Muhammad Dilber was the hero for Pakistan, earning his team the 9th position in the competition and pushing India down to a modest 10th place.
Thanking Allah for the win, Mohd Umar Bhutta, Captain of the Pakistan Team said, “I am very happy that we won the match. Whenever India and Pakistan play against each other there is different kind of pressure on both the team. But we played really well. We were expecting this to be a tough match. To end on shootout these days is part of modern hockey and our players were well prepared for it.”