Salalah (Oman): India’s junior men’s hockey team maintained its continental supremacy as it beat arch-rivals Pakistan 2-1 to emerge Asia Cup champions for the fourth time here on Thursday.
Angad Bir Singh (13th minute) and Araijeet Singh Hundal (20th) scored for India while Pakistan managed to pull one back through Abdul Basharat (37th).
This was India’s fourth title, having earlier won the tournament in 2004, 2008 and 2015. Pakistan have won the tournament in 1987, 1992 and 1996.
Recognizing the team’s effort and the unbeaten record in the prestigious tournament which saw the country qualify for the FIH Men’s Junior World Cup in Malaysia, the Hockey India Executive Board announced a cash award of Rs 2 lakh each for the players and Rs 1 lakh each for support staff.
India went on the offensive from the first minute as they quickly earned a penalty corner through their first move. It was Sudeep Chirmako, who entered from the left wing and found the feet of a Pakistani defender but the subsequent chance went abegging.
India’s failure to convert penalty corner again came to light in the sixth minute when Sunit Lakra’s drag-flick was saved by the Pakistani goalkeeper.
However in the 12th minute of the opening quarter, India drew first blood when Angad Bir Singh tapped one home from close range after Araijeet Singh Hundal’s shot was deflected off the goalmouth melee.
Hundal, one of the brightest talents among Indian hockey’s Gen-Next, increased the lead to 2-0 as he received a delivery at the centre of the striking circle. He controlled and took a turn and smashed the ball home.
India made repeated raids into the Pakistan defensive third but the finish was lacking on most occasions even as they took a healthy 2-0 lead at half-time.
However, Pakistan pressed hard after the breather and it was Abdul Basharat, who pulled one back in the 37th minute when Abdul Shahid set the former up with a perfect assist.
The final quarter saw Pakistan make a flurry of attacks with as they got at least three penalty corners in quick succession.
In the 50th minute, Indian custodian Mohith Shashikumar made a diving save when Arbaz Ayaz tried to deflect a penalty corner from the left side of the Indian goal.
They got another penalty corner but Nadeem Khan’s attempt was off-target. The Indians managed to stave off the waves of attack and then did well enough in the final moments to keep their slender one-goal lead intact.
Congratulating the team, Hockey India President Dilip Tirkey said, “The team has shown great promise over the past few months, particularly after their historic win at the Sultan of Johor Cup they have become a dominant force and I believe this big win will hold them in good stead for the Junior World Cup later this year.
“Hockey India has decided to honour the players for this feat with a befitting cash award. I congratulate the team and the support staff for their efforts.”
Speaking about the tense final, India team captain Uttam Singh, who was adjudged the Player of the Match, said, “After the 1-1 draw in the round robin stage, we were very aware of the areas we had to do well in order to beat Pakistan. It was quite a nervous Final. The team had never played in front of such a big crowd but I think created early goals helped us stay in control of the game.”
India coach CR Kumar said the win was a good team effort.
“It came down to executing our opportunities. Though I feel we could have scored a few more goals, when you are playing a big opponent like Pakistan there is a lot of pressure. But I am very happy with the way the players controlled their emotions and played to their potential.”