India scripts an incredible win

Kuala Lumpur Sept. 26. India is in the final. And will clash again with Pakistan for the Asia Cup on Sunday.

Fascinating as the fact is, it dawned amidst the dramatic final moments at Bukit Jalil here on Friday. India recovered from a 0-1 deficit, slotted four in the second half, three in the last minute and the fourth seven seconds before the hooter to conquer Korea, the reigning champion.

Is it not easy now to visualise on the mind's eye now what a nerve-wracking scenario it must have been for the spectators, a large number of them hooting for India?

Pakistan prevailed over a spirited Japanese resistance in other semifinals to take on India in the cup final, which the teams contested last in 1989 in New Delhi.

Not in recent memory as India marched into the final of a competition outclassing Korea with a final minute assault. By no stretch of imagination was it a flawless performance yet it was emotionally filling, that should accentuate the enthusiasm generated for the game in recent months.

For long periods the frontline was haphazard, showing no trace of vibrancy, consistency or vigour until the entry of that energetic, ebullient of Sandeep Michael. Quite predictably, his stay was brief, given the now transparent predilection of the chief coach, Rajinder Singh, allotting Michael only a few moments in a match. But this phase was sufficient for Michael to demonstrate his competence — he truly changed the complexion of the match.

When the attack was struggling and missing openings, he it was who notched the equaliser midway in the second half, when there were genuine thoughts of the match slipping away from India.

Tejbir Singh provided the opening, and Michael, picking the ball well in front of the goal-keeper, performed a perfect body dodge and placed it securely inside the boards. The Korean custodian, Dong Sik, whom the rest of the forwards found difficult to beat, was totally bewildered by the jugglery of Michael.

And minutes later, Michael, it was who gained for India the second penalty corner of the match. A whiplash of a shot by Dilip Tirkey, a grounder at that, missed the mark by inches.

It was incomprehensible why Sandeep Michael was pulled out after that splendid effort, especially when Gagan Ajit Singh, Prahbjot Singh and Deepak Thakur were consistently missing, raising doubts whether the match was heading for a defeat or a draw.

Ignace Tirkey worked like a beaver and it was one of his brilliant runs down the left flank that created the space for Baljit to move in to give Prahbjot Singh the time for the finishing touches to put the team ahead. Only a minute and 15 seconds were left when that glorious moment surfaced.

Viren Resquinha, Baljit Singh Saini in the mid-field, and Dilip Tirkey in deep defence was, as always, a solid bastion. Kanwalpreet Singh also contributed his mite, although he needlessly got a yellow card when only a few seconds left for the hooter.

India's incandescent phase arose in the final minute. After Prabjot Singh produced that match winner, a brilliant piece of combined work among Prabhjot and Deepak culminated in Gagan, at last, hitting in to enlarge the lead. But Korea was unwilling to take the defeat lying down, although the writing was on the wall.

Lee Jung Seon, surprisingly left unmarked throughout the match, let go a withering shot from the top of the circle, bemusing the tiring Devesh Chauhan to put the Koreans back in the fight.

In the 15 seconds left anything looked possible, a draw for Korea for instance. But with the score-board showing seven seconds came India enacted a fitting finale. Dhanraj Pillay broke into one his trade-mark runs, released the ball in time to Prabhjot Singh, whose flick was tapped into the net by Deepak Thakur.

Inexperienced though the Koreans were, there was not a wee-bit of inhibition in their approach, always athletic, adept and opportunistic. The goal which Hyo Sik scored shortly after a goal-less first session, off a free hit from Young Bae was testimony to that assessment.

In the other semifinal, speed and stoicism kept Japan in the fight almost right through and there was a phase when the teams were deadlocked 1-1. Late in the first half, Shabir Hussain put Pakistan ahead off a cross from Anan Maqsood. After the break, Furusato deflected a penalty corner hit by Ozawa, but Ghazanfar Ali executed a penalty corner to hoist the lead, which was enhanced by Nadeem Ahmed midway in the second half from another penalty corner.

Saturday's matches: (7-8) Bangladesh v Hong Kong (3 p.m IST); (5-6): Malaysia v China ( 5-30 p.m.)

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