The much anticipated Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final Pool A clash between traditional rivals India and Pakistan ended in a 2-2 stalemate at the Brasschaat Municipal Park in Antwerp on Friday.
Ramandeep Singh (13th and 39th) scored for world No.9 India while his brace was matched by world No.10 Pakistan captain Muhammad Imran, who converted a penalty stroke and a penalty corner in the 23rd and 37th minutes respectively.
India were the better team at the start with the players combining and coordinating well. They got the more of the ball possession in the first quarter as Pakistan took time to get into a rhythm.
Pakistan got a great chance of going ahead as Shakeel Ammad set up Muhammad Waqas only for the latter to waste it.
However, India got the crucial 1-0 lead in the 13th minute as Gurmail Singh drove the ball inside the Pakistan circle in a blistering speed and Ramandeep, lurking in front of the goal, made full commitment and threw his body to deflect the ball in.
In the second quarter, Pakistan regrouped and bounced back strongly to make lethal circle penetrations and threatening Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh every time. The best part of Pakistan was the way they managed the space in the field while it seemed India, after getting the lead, were more focused on keeping their lead.
Sparks flew thick and fast between the two Asian giants — with a bitter history between the two countries — didn’t allow each other free space.
Pakistan got a penalty corner in the 23rd minute and skipper Muhammad Imran’s flick was saved on the goalline by Devindar Sunil Walmiki with a backstick, leading to a penalty stroke. Seasoned Imran stepped up to convert it to a goal even if Sreejesh correctly dived to his right.
India responded well and were rewarded with a penalty corner that was wasted by a lethargic strike from Manpreet Singh and both the teams went to the half-time 1-1.
Continuing their ascendancy, Pakistan played a fluent game as India played with 10 members as Satbir Singh sat outside following a yellow card.
Pakistan earned a penalty corner in the 37th minute that was converted successfully as Imran flicked high into the net, easily beating Indian custodian Sreejesh.
India responded two minutes later as Devindar got a pass from skipper Sardar Singh and surged into the rival circle to set it up for Ramandeep, who lifted the ball high into the net for his brace.
With the game still 2-2, India and Pakistan both wasted a penalty corner each in the fourth quarter as their stoppers failed to properly check the balls after the push.
India, especially, missed the absence of a penalty corner expert as their top artist V.R. Raghunath is in India due to injury and Rupinder Pal Singh is yet to fully recover from an injury sustained during a warm-up game here.
The responsibility was on Manpreet and in this match filled with pressure, it was a demand too much for the youngster as the rival goalkeeper Imran Butt had a very good day in the office.
Butt showed very good reflexes as he dived twice in one minute to keep India at bay and ultimately both the teams tried in vain in search of the winner. (IANS)