Commonwealth Games Hockey: TV umpire's blunder led to Pakistan's equaliser, but shoddy India brought on their own downfall
It cost India two points and gave Pakistan their momentum back, but India will go back to the drawing board and see how they threw away a match that should have been won comfortably after being 2-0 at the break.
With seven seconds remaining, Pakistan's equaliser was fortuitous, a fluke. By holding India to a 2-2 draw, Pakistan virtually claimed victory. And when you consider Pakistan has suffered six consecutive defeats to India in the last three years, the draw must have definitely felt like a win. And the way their bench ran on to the pitch to celebrate, neutrals could even be forgiven for thinking they have clinched a medal.
But the man a majority of Indian fans won't forgive in a hurry is Nel Dion, the South African video umpire. Across TV sets and even on the ground, the decision was unanimous — that the ball didn't touch Rupinder Pal Singh's or Gurinder's feet, but two penalty corners were awarded, though Singapore umpire Lim Hong Zhen didn't blow for even one.
So Pakistan had every right to check with the video umpire, but Dion saw something that the world missed, though he saw the same angles on TV.
In the end, however, it cost India two points and gave Pakistan their momentum back. India will now go back to the drawing board and see how they threw away a match that should have been won comfortably after being 2-0 at the break.
Dilpreet Singh (13th) and Harmanpreet Singh (20th) scored for India; Pakistan responded through Muhammad Irfan Junior (39th) and Ali Mubashar (60th).
In the first two quarters, India played the way they promised to — pacy, creating space, moving in fast, first touches and scoring without delay. In the third and fourth quarters, however, they played shoddily; they relaxed, didn't increase their playing levels, and played worryingly into Pakistan's hands.
Pushed back constantly, there was no effort, neither from the midfield nor from the man free to take control and hold. Turnovers gave the ball to Pakistan and almost eight attacks in the third and fourth quarters happened with India passing to the wrong man.
In fact, if India had heroes on the day, it was P Sreejesh in goal who made some brilliant saves, and deep defender Amit Rohidas and creator-forward SV Sunil. The rest played in patches, coming to life momentarily and then slacking off.
This was exactly how Pakistan scored their first goal; they created a good move, but the cross went past an Indian defender who was dozing off, only to find the stick of Muhammad Irfan Jr, whose deflection gave no time or space for Sreejesh to react. It was right then in the 39th minute that India should have woken up. Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne in the post-match press conference later said, "This wasn't the team I coached for five months. The players are more disappointed than me."
Perplexing for a team that has been preparing for this very event to suddenly lose the essence of the philosophy that brought them here. Pakistan realised early on that playing at top speed would give India more goals in the last two quarters. They held the ball, brought the pace down, and unbelievably, started dodging past India, dribbling past the midfield, shielding the ball, and creating moves on the right flank.
India, instead of holding the ball and letting Pakistan come to them, released balls in a hurry, bordering on the panic, giving away crucial balls as turnovers in the midfield. The counters piled pressure on the Indian defence and they cracked, falling over each other. In the fourth quarter, apart from the last two, Pakistan had also three penalty corners; Sreejesh saving one, and two flying over the crossbar.
This brings us to Sreejesh, the last man standing for India, in all four quarters. Form may have deserted certain players in certain moments of the match, but the Indian goalkeeper was on top of his game. In the second quarter, he saved two penalty corners, the second being an audacious bit of goalkeeping, when he fell to one side but took the second shot on his stick. Things could have been sticky if the 'Indian Wall' had not stood tall.
In the 13th minute, the match was in India's hands. Twice, they attacked and Pakistan had to defend well. Then, off a counter, a ball from Manpreet Singh found Sunil and he sprinted. With the Pakistan defence going for Sunil, Dilpreet found space on the left, trapped perfectly, and in the same motion, shot into goal. Pakistan goalkeeper Imran Butt could only marvel at the 18-year-old's scoring ability.
Momentum was India's as they got their first penalty corner which Rupinder Pal Singh shot over. In the dying seconds of the first quarter, Sunil gave it to Manpreet and Butt saved. Pakistan also saw a shot off Shan Ali hit the cross piece and bounce off.
India's play was promising and in the second quarter, Sunil created the second and third penalty corners. After Harmanpreet missed the second, he flicked a low one and got India's second goal in the 20th minute. Things were settling into a pattern. It was broken when Akashdeep was shown the yellow card along with one to Pakistan's Qadir, and both teams were reduced to 10 men.
But when Pakistan forced their way back into the match with three penalty corners in two minutes, Sreejesh was excellent.
The third quarter saw a different Pakistan. They didn't pursue the match anymore, instead playing their own game. India earned a fourth penalty corner at the start of the quarter, but Rupinder flicked wide. India was losing territory as Pakistan relayed the ball wide. India was now running after the ball to gain some possession. India on the ball is more dangerous then without it. And Pakistan had to keep the ball to build a structured a move. Frustration was setting in as Chinglensana blew away a good chance with only Butt ahead of him. He swung and missed the ball, and was immediately shown a yellow card on a Pakistan counter. That was five minutes out with India again reduced to 10 men. With two yellow cards in the match, India played 10 minutes with 10 players.
Even in the fourth quarter, there were too many turnover errors. Pakistan dominated the distance between the centre line and India's striking circle. Muhammad Qadir missed a glorious opportunity in the Indian striking circle. In the 50th minute, Pakistan had three penalty corners. Two were saved by Sreejesh, and off the third, Rizwan Senior's deflection went over the bar.
Muhammed Dilber, Shakeel Butt, Shan Ali and Muhammed Atiq made life difficult for the Indian defenders. They weren't rushing in. The purpose was simple: To build a move towards goal, and make every move count. Pressure slowly built up. Instead of clearing and rotating the ball, Indian players fell back. For almost an entire minute, the whole Indian team was defending.
India finally woke up in the 57th minute to clear a ball to Mandeep Singh who broke through the cordon and moved to the top of the Pakistan striking circle. Sunil had overlapped and stood next to Butt. Mandeep cut the angle further and saw his reverse shot go high off the goalkeeper. A pass to Sunil could have done the trick and closed the match off. But personal glory stood between India and shutting the game away.
And then in the 59th minute, drama ensued.
After the match, Sreejesh tweeted that one must not blame the umpires (he meant the video umpire, one may guess), and correctly assessed that "it's we who gave him a chance".
With circle penetrations of 26 to Pakistan's 14 and a ball possession of 53 percent, India would be disappointed with the result. But there would be no downing of tools and after a look at the video and a session with the coach, the players would clear their heads and get ready for Sunday's match against Wales. Three points on Sunday would ensure the team is back on track for tougher battles against Malaysia and England.
India had won the last of their eight Olympic gold medals in the 1980 Moscow Olympics before the team endured a sharp slide in their fortunes.
Returning to the Indian team after a year, Manpreet shared his excitement about playing against a top-quality side.
The new dates of the men's ACT have been confirmed with the Bangladesh Hockey Federation and are also approved by the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the AHF said.