A spirited India notched up a come-from-behind 3-1 win over arch-rivals Pakistan in a must-win match to keep alive their hopes in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, here on Tuesday.
The young Indian side showed plenty of maturity and composure to avenge its defeat at the Asian Champions Trophy in Doha in December.
India were in a spot of bother ahead of the match after losing their opening two encounters, and another loss on Tuesday would have virtually shut the door on Michael Nobbs' wards. But, it was not to be, as India scored through Rupinder Pal Singh (5th minute), Akashdeep Singh (9th) and Mandeep Singh (56th) to seal the issue in their favour after Mohammad Waqas gave Pakistan the lead in the fourth minute of the game.
By virtue of this win, India have moved up in the team standings to the fourth position ahead of Pakistan with three points from as many games.
It was an enthralling encounter between the two Asian giants, who adopted a cautious approach in the initial stages of the match.
Going by the share of ball possession, Pakistan, by far, were the better side on display at least in the opening half. The Pakistanis put the Indian defence under tremendous pressure in the opening few minutes of the game. Their efforts produced results immediately when Waqas deflected in skipper Muhammad Imran's flick after Pakistan tried a variation from their first penalty corner.
But the Indians hardly took any time to bounce back as they pumped in two goals in a span of five minutes to stun their neighbours.
Rupinder restored parity for India in the fifth minute converting India's only penalty corner of the match with a fierce drag-flick which beat Pakistan goal-keeper Imran Butt all ends up.
Pakistan could have levelled in the 11th minute but Muhammad Irfan Jr made a hash of things with the goal gaping in front of him.
Pakistan were awarded penalty corners in the 15th, 25th and 35th minutes, but Imran could not find the target.
Pakistan dominated proceedings in the first 10 minutes of the second half, thanks to the untiring Shafqat Rasool. But they could not find the final touch.
In the 52nd minute, Pakistan were awarded their fifth penalty corner but Imran pulled it wide of the left post.
Pakistan had an off day in office which can be gauged from the fact that they only managed to convert one out of the eight penalty corners that came their way.
The Pakistanis also found it difficult to get the better of an agile P R Sreejesh, who was brilliant under the Indian goal. Sreejesh was in ominous form as he pulled off as many as six to seven brilliant saves, one of which came just at the stroke of the half time, to deny the Pakistanis any scoring chance.
Leading 2-1, the Indians looked more organised after the change of ends even as Pakistan were desperately hunting for the equaliser. Pakistan's task became even more difficult when Mandeep scored India's third goal in the 56th minute. Mandeep scored from a rebound after his initial touch was gloved away by Shah. Trailing 1-3, the stunned Pakistanis pressed hard for goals and in the process earned three penalty corners but Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh stood in between them and goal on all the three occasions.
India's chief coach Micheal Nobbs said he has every reason to be delighted with the win, which put India back on the track after consecutive defeats in the opening two matches of the Azlan Shah Cup.
The coach, however, wasn't satisfied with the overall performance of his team, but singled out P R Sreejesh for special praise for his sterling display under the Indian goal.
"It is still a development side and the inexperience showed in many aspects. Thankfully, the defence held its own and due credit to goalkeeper Sreejesh whose saves were the deciding factor," Nobbs said after the much-needed victory over Pakistan.
Pakistan coach Akhtar Rasool rued his team's missed chances and said they were, by far, the better side on the turf on Tuesday.
"Our team dished out a better brand of hockey but inexperience of the boys let us down. The team clearly missed a good striker. Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh seemed to have all the answers today," Rasool said.