IPOH - India thumped Pakistan 5-1 to put themselves in a position to qualify for the finals of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament. Their next match is against New Zealand wille decide their fate.

It was Pakistan’s biggest lost to their rivals since the 4-7 defeat at the 2003 Champions Trophy and also their worse defeat ever. It could have easily have been a couple of more goals for India, if not for a penalty stroke miss by Rupinder Pal Singh and a disallowed goal in the closing stages of the match.

Rupinder Pal Singh, who was one of the goalscorers for India, said the win was one of the best against Pakistan that he has played in. “Whenever we play Pakistan, we always get exicted. Before the start of this match though, we were calm and it showed in our game.” As for Pakistan, it was indeed a humbling defeat.

Team manager Abdul Haniff Khan said it was humbling to be defeated by an Olympic side and said that Pakistan were still in a rebuilding phase. “Once upon a time, we were a force to be reckoned with. In the last decade, though, our performances have dipped. We are taking the positives from this defeat. The current players that we have are the best from Pakistan. For the next match, we will push them and train them hard,” he said.

India opened scoring in the fourth minute of play. Sunil Sowmarpet worked his way from inside the Pakistani half to the top D, before releasing the ball to Manpreet Singh, whose stinger from an acute angle had Imran Butt well beaten.

But Pakistan struck back within three minutes. They forced to penalty corners in quick succession and scored off their second in the 7th minute. It was a clean hit from captain M Irfan to put Pakistan back on level terms.

India not to be outdone, snatched back the lead in the 10th minute. A blistering shot from outside the D from Manpreet Singh was deflected into goal by Sunil Sowmarpet. The hard running Manpreet was awarded the Man of the Match, despite having to miss the third quarter due to an injury. Imran Butt kept Pakistan in the game, brilliantly stopping Rupinder Singh Pal’s rising hit and on several occasion it seemed that he will be a stumbling block for the Indians in the game.

In the 41st minute Sunil Sowmarpet picked up his second to increase India’s lead. The move was started from Chandanda Thimmiah whose drive from outside the D was steered to far post by Kothajit Khadangbam. A diving Sunil mades the connection to beat Imran from close distance. In the 50th minute, it was an opportunistic goals from Talwinder Singh. He picked up a square pass inside the D, sidestepped the Pakistani defence and unleashed a reverse stick hit to sound the board.

India forced a penalty corner in the 54th minute and Rupinder Pal Singh’s rising flick gave Imran no chance at all as India stretched their lead to 5-1. With five minutes to go, goal bound Manpreet Singh was brought down and India were awarded a penalty stroke. However, Rupinder Pal Singh sent the stroke straight into Imran.

And in the closing stages, India had sounded the board again but Sunil’s deflection into goal from a Ramandeep cross was disallowed for an infringement.

Indian coach Roelant Oltmans said it could have been worse for Pakistan had Rupinder converted the stroke and the goals for India in the 52nd minute was allowed. “We defended well, mixed our variations and tried to keep them away from our circle. There is always room for improvement and we always take one match at a time,” said Oltmans.

He was also of praise for Manpreet Singh, whose father passed away last week. Manpreet returned to Ipoh to play for the Indian team and in the match against Pakistan, he scored one goal. “He feels his teammates are like his brothers. We will support and to me, he has been fantastic so far. He is real winner and he showed what he is capable off today.”

Defending champions New Zealand’s hopes of making the final is on tenterhooks following their 0-1 defeat to favourites Australia. New Zealand must now beat India in their final group match and hope for their other rivals falter in their upcoming matches. Australia, who lost the title last year on a shootout against the Black Sticks, sit pretty at the top of the table with four wins out of four. A 22nd minute goal from veteran Jamie Dwyer broke the Kiwi hearts after coming close to at least snatching a draw.

Malaysia also kept their final hopes alive, despite their 2-2 draw with Olympic bound Canada. Malaysia after a strong first half, drifted in and out of the game as the match progressed with Canada tightening their own game.

Malaysia need to beat Asian giants Pakistan and India in their next two games to steal a place in the final.

National coach Stephen van Huizen was not too happy with the draw as they were going for a win. “I do not think that the Canadians are happy either. This is match we had targeted to win and we tried hard in the last quarter. But that is the result we got. It is a good match in patches and we are not unduly worried about their robust play,” said Stephen. “You have to expect these against such teams and learn to handle it. We have two tough matches against Asian rivals Pakistan and India. We will aim for a win but these two teams always raise their game level when playing us. We will see how that game goes,’ he added.

STANDINGS

Pos Team Played w D L Points

1 Australia 4 4 0 0 12

2 India 4 3 0 1 9

3 New Zealand 5 2 2 1 8

4 Canada 5 1 2 2 5

5 Malaysia 4 1 2 1 5

6 Pakistan 4 1 0 3 3

7 Japan 4 4 0 0 0

Today’s Fixtures

New Zealand vs India

Australia vs Japan

Pakistan vs Malaysia

Results

Canada 2-2 Malaysia

India 5-1 Pakistan

Australia 1-0 New Zealand