KARACHI: Pakistan and India marched into the final of the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament after playing out an enthralling 2-2 draw in their last round-robin encounter in the Chinese city of Ordos on Friday.
Top seeds Pakistan seemed to be cruising to a big win after leading the match 2-0 till the 42nd minute but the Indians bounced back with the vengeance to earn a valuable point.
While a draw was enough for the top-placed Pakistan to reach Sunday’s final with ten points from their five matches, India’s cause was helped by Malaysia who defeated Japan in a crucial tie on Friday.
Japan, who took the field against Malaysia with seven points, needed to win the match to overtake India and reach the final. The Japanese who emerged as the surprise package of the tournament with a stunning triumph against Pakistan, went all out for a win but were undone by spirited Malaysia, who won 3-2 to finish their otherwise unimpressive run in the six-nation contest on a winning note.
The Koreans, too, were fancying their chances of reaching the final even tough they needed to beat hosts China by a seven-goal margin to make it to the title clash. But the Koreans played out a 1-1 draw in the match to crash out of the race for the final.
For hockey fans, it’s a dream come true — a Pakistan-India final.
The two Asian giants gave glimpses of what’s in store for hockey buffs in Sunday’s finale when they featured in a high-voltage encounter on Friday that was played under windy and chilly conditions.
Pakistan, needing just a draw to confirm a place in the final, took control of the proceedings after a barren first session to take a solid two-goal lead with strikes in quick succession early in the second half.
Muhammad Waqas took Pakistan ahead with a 40th minute strike and the lead was doubled by Muhammad Irfan just two minutes later.
India didn’t waste much time and reduced the lead with a counterattack through Rupinder Singh. Striker Danish Mujtaba then leveled scores in the 53rd minute through an indirect short-corner attempt to keep India in the hunt for the title.
The equaliser for India came in a controversial manner as New Zealand umpire Simon Taylor decided against awarding the goal as he didn’t see Danish deflecting the shot. However, following a protest by the Indians the umpires decided to award the goal to India.
Pakistan, who won their first Asian Games gold medal in twenty years on Chinese soil last December, were over the moon after their young team’s accent to the final.
“It is a very positive sign for Pakistan hockey that a young team has made it into the final of this tournament,” said Khawaja Junaid, Pakistan’s manager.
“A match against India is never easy as both sides play with a lot of emotions but I must say that our boys did a good job,” he added.
India, too, were elated after their largely inexperienced team entered Sunday’s final. Both teams will have a rest day on Saturday before meeting in the title clash on Sunday at 6.00 pm local time (3.00pm PST).