The last time India played Pakistan in an Asian Games hockey final 32 years ago (in 1982), the hosts were hammered 1-7 in New Delhi and the then goalkeeper Mir Ranjan Negi was blamed for the defeat. Yesterday, at the Incheon Asian Games final between the same nations, India beat Pakistan 4-2 via the shootout and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh emerged as the hero effecting two brilliant saves in the tiebreaker.
Mir Ranjan Negi
It is a well-documented fact that Negi was ostracised after the 1982 defeat before returning 16 years later as India's goalkeeping coach to help the team win the Asiad gold in 1998 in Bangkok where they beat South Korea in the final. The story formed the script of the 2007 Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Bollywood superhit Chak De India.
Sweeter win than '98 Yesterday's win over arch-rivals Pakistan tasted a lot sweeter, said Negi.
"That win (1982) was against South Korea. This was against Pakistan. Aaj lagta hai ki Sreejesh ne mera badlaa le liye (Today, I feel that Sreejesh has taken my revenge from the Pakistanis). And goalkeeper Sree emerging as the star is like sone pe suhaaga (icing on the cake)," Negi told mid-day from his Wadala home yesterday.
India went down 0-1 early (3rd minute) to a field goal by Muhammed Rizwan Sr before Kothajit Singh restored parity in the 27th minute. In the shootout, Sreejesh stood like a rock.
Negi was particularly impressed with the way India approached the shootout. "India's senior players like captain Sardar (Singh) and drag-flicker V Raghunath did not participate in the shootout and the responsibility was given to younger players like Gurwinder Singh Chandi, Dharamvir Singh and Manpreet Singh.
India players hug goalkeeper PR Sreejesh (in red jersey) after his heroics in the penalty shootout against Pakistan during the men’s hockey final at Incheon's Seonhak Hockey Stadium yesterday. Pic/Getty Images
"This goes to show that the team had a well thought out plan for the shootout and that's the reason they were able to beat Pakistan, who had in fact beaten Malaysia via the shootout in the semis earlier," said Negi, even as he reserved special praise for Sreejesh.
"Let's not forget that India went into this tournament with only one goalkeeper, so Sreejesh had to evade injury because we had no replacement for him. In the final too, he was struck on the hand by a powerful reverse hit, but he played on. It's this persistence that Indian hockey has always been known for. Today, the gold couldn't have gone anywhere else," he signed off.
The amount (in rupees) each member of the Asiad gold winning hockey team will get from Hockey India