Kuantan (Malaysia): Defending champion India started its Asia Cup campaign on a disastrous note, going down 2-3 to Pakistan in a rain-marred Pool B match at the Wisma Belia Kuantan hockey stadium here on Sunday.
With this win and the draw against China on Saturday, the three-time former champion Pakistan, which had lost to India 1-2 in the Azlan Shah Cup here last month, is assured of a place in Thursday’s semifinals.
India, meanwhile, will have to win its last pool match against China on Tuesday to qualify for the last four stage.
Both India and Pakistan started on a fast note. Pakistan was more aggressive and found the net as early as in the fourth minute through Tariq Aziz from the top of the semicircle but umpire John Right ruled out the goal due to an infringement and in turn gave a 16 yard hit to the Indians.
Stung by Pakistan’s early attacks, the Indians stepped up their offensive and very nearly came to scoring in the 13th minute only to be denied by the experienced Pakistan custodian Salman Akbar.
India opened the scoring after Prabjot Singh converted a rebound from skipper Sandeep Singh’s penalty corner in the 15th minute.
But with just two minutes remaining for the breather, Pakistan struck back with Hasneem Khan scoring with a reverse stick from a counter attack.
Pakistan could have scored much more had it not wasted several penalty corner attempts with the Indian defence standing firm.
Experienced centre-forward Rehan Butt made it 2-1 for Pakistan in the very first minute of the second half from a goalmouth melee.
India drew parity in the 10th minute through Rajpal Singh’s field goal before heavy rains suspended play for nearly 40 minutes.
However, veteran Sohail Abbas ensured a happy outing for Pakistan when he scored the winning goal off its fifth short corner in the 55th minute through a powerful dragflick which beat Indian custodian Baljit Singh hands down.
Thereafter, India got two penalty corners and a couple of chances to equalise, but goalkeeper Akbar came to Pakistan’s rescue.
S.V. Sunil was the star performer for India but was unlucky not to have registered his name in the scoreboard, while skipper Sandeep was off-colour as he wasted three penalty corners in the last 10 minutes of the match. — PTI