Sandeep Singh starred as India trounced arch-rivals Pakistan 7-4 in a high-scoring thriller on Sunday to storm into the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games hockey.
Faced with the prospect of elimination before the knock-out rounds, India responded with a resounding display before some 19,000 delirious home fans at the Major Dhyan Chand stadium.
The hosts finished with nine points to finish second in Pool A behind world champions Australia and will now take on England in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
India’s coach Jose Brasa praised the part played by the crowd.
“All credit to the crowd,” he said. “Their support was tremendous, something I have never seen before in any match. But we haven’t won anything yet, so it will be good if the boys do not lose sight of this fact.
“We did lose a little bit of our momentum when they scored two quick goals but we regrouped after the break. We are glad that in the end we made the Indian public happy.” Pakistan striker Rehan Butt said the young players in the team could not stand the pressure of facing India on their home ground.
“The young boys could not handle the pressure of playing a big match against India,” he said.
“They could not handle the pressure that comes from playing before a huge crowd. Also, we did not play to our potential.” Sandeep launched a relentless attack on the Pakistan defence, scoring India’s first two goals to put early pressure and set up his team-mates twice with his accurate passing.
Sandeep found an able partner in striker Shivendra Singh who hit a brace in the fast-paced encounter.
The Indians started off aggressively, forcing a slew of penalty corners inside the first 25 minutes. The first was converted by Sandeep with a searing drag-flick that hit the left corner of the goal but he missed the second.
Sandeep was off target the third time as well but made amends when he converted the fourth penalty in the 11th minute to bring the house down with cheers of ’India, India’.
Sandeep set up India’s third goal when his cross pass from the right was deflected in by Shivendra Singh, making it 3-0 for India.
Striker Sarvanjit Singh then converted India’s fifth penalty corner off a rebound after a Sandeep strike in the 20th minute.
Pakistan finally managed to pull one back off a penalty stroke which was converted by Muhammad Imran in the 27th before Muhammad Rizwan made it 4-2 with a field goal that evoked a collective groan from the home fans.
India dominated the second-half as well with Danish Mujtaba swatting in one in the 41st minute and Dharamvir Singh using a scoop shot that flew over the goalkeeper’s head.
Pakistan’s third goal came off the stick of Muhammad Irfan but India got another just one minute later when captain Rajpal Singh dodged several defenders to give a pass to Shivendra who slotted home neatly (7-3).
Pakistan managed one more goal through veteran Shakeel Abbasi but it was too late in the day to make amends for their earlier lapses.
This was India’s third win in a year over their bitter rivals after their 4-1 triumph in the World Cup at this same venue in February and a 4-2 victory in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in May.