It took three quarters for supporters at the Champions Trophy to really witness the enormous rivalry between India and Pakistan. But then came the point where everyone was sitting on the edge of their chair, in a match which India then went on to win 4-0.
It was at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when India was 1-0 ahead, that the tension really began. You could feel it on the stands – something was about to happen in the battle between two former hockey giants who may not be as good as they used to be, but who are still the biggest rivals in the game.
Was it the dangerous dribble by Pakistan’s Ali Shan, or the too-high pass from India’s Surender Kumar which frustrated his team mates in front of the goal? Suddenly there was a lot happening on the pitch. Loss of possession in the midfield, one counter attack swamping another – the game in the fourth quarter became messier.
It was a deep and brilliant pass from Simranjeet Singh from his own half which put team mate Dilpreet Singh in front of the goalmouth. Two Pakistan defenders had lost sight of him temporarily and ran to get behind him. The crowd began to roar when the 18-year-old took the ball and cold-bloodedly put the ball past the keeper. Then it happened and everyone realised how important this game was. Dilpreet Singh fell to the ground, stood up and threw his stick in the air.
It had taken a moment like this for the rivalry between the two sides to materialize. Perhaps the backdrop of Breda, so different from Asia, was to blame. There were no yellow or green cards. But this goal was the key. In the dying moments of the game, India would score twice more, one of which was put away as the final hooter sounded. The video referee was brought in to see if the goal was made within playing time.
‘I’m not bothered either way, nor about the 4-0 loss,’ Pakistan coach Roelant Oltmans said after the game. Last year, Oltmans was India’s coach and today he had seen his team go down to another team that he had helped create. ‘I look beyond the results,’ he said. ‘I could have not taken off my keeper and kept it at 2-0. But that is not what I am about. When it was 1-0, we were dominant and had created enough chances to score a goal. India did nothing until the counter attack – that was the big blow.’
Ahead of the match, Oltmans had told his team that it was up to them to show the world they had the right to be here. As founders of the Champions Trophy, Pakistan had been given a wild card to take part in the last ever edition of the event.
Pakistan may have lost to India, but they did enough to irritate India outside the circle. But Pakistan’s shortcomings were clear in the attack, with messy counters and the wrong choices – a pass that should have been a shot at goal, a shot that should not have been made at all. Pakistan’s forwards did not shine when it came to creating penalty corners either – despite the dribbling and the fussing around, they only managed it once.
Pakistan played best after the 1-0 for India in the 25th minute. They dominated and created chances. But an attack by Muhammad Rizwan, who plays for Dutch club Oranje-Rood ended in the circle. A backhand shot missed the goal, a tip-in was saved in the corner by India’s keeper Sreejesh Parattu. It took until the 41st minute for Pakistan to get a corner. Mubashar Ali pushed it over. That was the last big chance Pakistan had until, at the other end of the pitch, it became 2-0 and the match was decided.
‘This is a shame,’ said Oltmans. ‘We still have to play the numbers 1, 2 and 3 in the world and that says enough about how difficult we are going to find things. But we did not go off in this game and that is important. We played well in phases – we just have to make those phases longer. We have to start out sharper. I’ve noticed that in our friendlies. It is always the same song. We don’t really start to play until we are 1-0 down. And that has to change.’