Held amid a diplomatic row over denial of entry to three Indian athletes from Arunachal Pradesh, the highlight of the evening was the spectacular light show, besides featuring the cultural history of China, and the spirit of Asian unity.
Riding on goal keeper Shashikumar Mohith’s outstanding saves, India survived last 15 minutes of furious onslaught before piping Pakistan 2-1 to regain the Junior Hockey Asia Cup in Salalah, Oman.
India who led 2-0 in first 20 minutes of the match looked cruising to an easy title win before the spirited Green Shirts launched a concerted counter attacks forcing the men in blue to go defensive and thanks to Mohith, they managed to hold on to the thin lead to win the cup for the fourth time.
Early goals by Angad Bir Singh (13′) and Araijeet Singh Hundal (20′) put India ahead but it due to some brilliant saves by Mohith that kept them in the lead throughout the match.
With this victory, India has created a new record of winning the maximum titles at the Junior Asia Cup. The team had previously won the title in 2004, 2008 and 2015 while Pakistan has won the tournament in 1988, 1992, 1996.
Hailing the team’s effort and their unbeaten record in the prestigious tournament which saw them qualify for the FIH Men’s Junior World Cup in Malaysia, the Hockey India Executive Board announced a cash award of INR 2.00 Lakh each for players and INR 1.00 Lakh each for support staff.
The final turned out to be an edge of the seat affair. India got off to a roaring start. They pushed Pakistan on the backfoot with early opportunities to score. They capitalized on their opponents’ errors in the circle and punished them by converting the PC earned in the 13th minute.
While it was Araijeet Singh Hundal who took a powerful shot on goal, Angad Bir Singh was quick on his feet to pick up the rebound and find a perfect deflection.
While the opening goal put India in command, a goal by Araijeet in the 20th minute helped in putting pressure on the Pakistani defence.
In the following quarter, the two teams lived up to the billing producing some tense moments that kept the full-house Salalah audience on their toes. Backed by a strong Pakistani fanbase, they were able to finally make a breakthrough in the 38th minute when Basharat Ali worked a brilliant field goal.
Though Pakistan found a number of opportunities to score through PCs in the last quarter, man of the match Shashikumar Mohith made some sensational saves to keep India ahead.
The final quarter saw Pakistan make a flurry of attacks and they got at least three penalty corners in quick succession. In the 50th minute, Mohith made a diving save when Arbaz Ayaz tried to deflect a penalty corner from the left side of the goal. They got another penalty corner but Nadeem Khan’s attempt was off-target. The Men in Blue managed to hold fort and see out a memorable win
After the victory Captain Uttam Singh who was awarded 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.”
Shashikumar Mohith was declared best goalkeeper of the tournament
Experienced India Coach CR Kumar expressed that it 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.”
Congratulating the team, Hockey India President i Dilip Tirkey said, “They have made us all extremely proud with their unbeaten performance at the tournament . 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 dominate 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.”He added.