Ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh rose to the occasion and converted two penalty corners as hosts India outplayed Pakistan in a thrilling Pool B match of the Hero Honda FIH World Cup at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here on Sunday.
With this victory, India avenged their 3-6 Champions Challenge defeat at the hands of the sub-continental rivals in Salta, Argentina last December.
The victory not only gave India a 3-2 head-to-head record against Pakistan in the quadrennial event, but also one lakh purse each to the players and support staff of the team.
Sandeep (35th minute, 57th), Shivendra Singh (27th) and Prabhjot Singh (37th) were the scorers for India, while Sohail Abbas (59th) scored Pakistan’s lone goal.
Both India and Pakistan earned five penalty corners each, out of which the home team converted two while their opponent found the net once.
Both countries are meeting in the sporting arena in India for the first time since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Sensing the pressure and stake associated with the high-profile encounter, India applied pressure on their neighbours from the onset and used both the flanks effectively.
If not for Salman Akbar, Pakistan would have been down by a bigger margin at half time. The Pakistani goalkeeper came to his side’s rescue on more than one occasion.
First Akbar denied Tushar Khandekar a chance to register his name in the scoreboard by stopping the Indian forwards’ powerful strike as early as in the seventh minute of the match, and then gloved away Diwakar Ram’s flick from the hosts’ first penalty corner in the 16th minute.
India’s domination can be gauged from the fact that they thoroughly controlled the midfield, with Pakistan hardly making inroads into their rival’s goal in the first half.
India’s constant pressure eventually resulted in the first goal of the match through a hardworking Shivendra, who scored from a rebound after Sandeep’s grounded flick was saved by Akbar off the hosts’ second penalty corner in the 25th minute.
India then doubled their lead just five seconds from the interval from a set-piece.
India earned their third penalty corner after the home team appealed for a foot foul and the video umpire upheld the appeal. Sandeep made no mistake this time and sounded the board much to the delight of the capacity crowd to go into the breather with a 2-0 lead.
Playing before their home crowd, the motivated Indians started from where they left in the first half and made it 3-0 two minutes into the second half when veteran forward Prabhjot Singh scored from a goal-mouth melee.
Pakistan also has to consider themselves unlucky as the wood work denied them two scoring chances, on both occasions it was Abbas who was the unfortunate one.
Sandeep registered his second goal of the day, again converting a short corner with aplomb in the 57th minute.
Pakistan pulled up a consolation two minutes later when Abbas became third time lucky, converting his side’s fourth penalty corner.
There were some more drama in the dying moments of the match as both India and Pakistan earned a penalty corner each but failed to find the net.
With a win under their belt, India will now face Australia, who lost 2-3 at the hands of England earlier in the day, while Pakistan will take on Spain next.