Kuantan: Top-ranked India had to dig deep into their reserves to eke out a 3-2 victory over arch-rivals and defending champions Pakistan in a preliminary league match of the fourth Asian Champions Trophy hockey, on Sunday.
India exhibited their composed defence when under pressure from early Pakistan raids and worked hard to gain control of the showpiece encounter of the tournament at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium.
Young striker Pradeep Mor scored his maiden goal in 13 international appearances to give India the lead in the 11th minute, but Pakistan then took charge through strikes from Muhammad Rizwan Sr. in the 31st minute and Muhammad Irfan Jr. in the 39th.
Rupinder Pal Singh converted India's only penalty corner in the 43rd minute and Ramandeep Singh came into goal-scoring action the following minute by deflecting in a diagonal cross from Talwinder Singh.
This victory gives India seven points from three outings. India had outplayed Japan 10-2 in their first outing, but were held to a 1-1 draw by South Korea.
Starting as two-time defending champions, Pakistan suffered a 2-4 loss to hosts Malaysia and then prevailed 1-0 over South Korea in their previous matches of the six-nation league.
Top four teams from the round-robin competition will advance to the semifinals.
Pakistan forced the first penalty corner in the opening minute when an Indian defender carried the ball in the circle, but goalkeeper PR Sreejesh blocked two shots to ward off danger.
Sreejesh first padded the drag-flick from Muhammad Aleem Bilal and then dived to his right to clear the rebound attempt.
Pakistan spelt danger again in the fourth minute when their strikers worked in unison to create space deep in the Indian territory and a cross from the right rebounded to unmarked Muhammad Rizwan Jr. on top of the circle. But he sent a wayward shot wide of the left post.
The Indian players did some hard work and got to the top of the rival scoring zone on a couple of occasions, but the resolute defence denied them a crack at the goal.
Talwinder Singh had the first Indian shy at the goal in the 11th minute when he picked up a pass from the right on top of the circle and created some space as he turned for the reverse hit, but the shot soared high over the cross-piece.
India took the lead against the run of play in the 22nd minute when Pradeep Mor on the right flank latched on to the ball that had deflected off a Pakistani defender. Mor darted into the circle and sent in a firm shot from a very narrow angle that beat goalkeeper Imran Butt to land on target.
This was the first goal for the 24-year-old Mor, who was playing in his 13th international and was one of the reserves for the Olympic Games.
Stung by the reverse, Pakistan came back strongly to mount a raid into the Indian circle, but the defender held their ground and denied them a good look at the citadel in the 25th minute.
The next minute saw an Indian counter-attack with SK Uthappa trying to run on the empty space on the left flank, but was obstructed by Ahmad Shakeel Butt, who was sent off for the deliberate foul.
Continuing to look for the equaliser, Pakistan were rewarded in the first minute after half-time as the Indian defence left Rizwan Sr. unmarked on top of the circle as he collected a long diagonal ball and sent a snap shot into the left corner of the boards. Rizwan Sr. had no pressure of time or space and his flash strike denied Sreejesh even the time to react.
After end to end counters by either side, Pakistan surged ahead in the 39th minute as Muhammad Ifran Jr. capitalised on an attack from the left to shoot home in a crowded circle.
As the game picked up pace, India earned their first penalty corner in 43rd minute when the ball hit a Pakistan defender's foot.
Rupinder Pal Singh converted the penalty corner with a rasping drag-flick that went high into the net.
The Indians went into a 3-2 lead a minute later when a long ball caught Pakistan's defence off-guard. Talwinder neatly collected the ball on the left and sent in a diagonal cross that a diving Ramandeep Singh deflected into the boards.
The third quarter of the match produced four goals, but both teams guarded their territory well in the last quarter....