India relied on a penultimate-minute goal by striker S V Sunil as they beat arch rivals Pakistan 2-1 in a thrilling match of the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here today.
Sunil made a diving effort to push the ball into the goal in the 69th minute to clinch the issue for India and keep themselves in the hunt for a podium finish. Sardar Singh created the opening with his defence-splitting pass to the right and Sunil capitalised on the chance. India, who are already out of contention for a final berth, had earlier opened the scoring in the 30th minute through Sandeep Singh's penalty corner conversion while Pakistan equalised through a penalty corner goal by skipper Sohail Abbas in the 59th minute.
The victory gave India a chance to stay in the hunt for the bronze medal match.
India collected nine points from their six round-robin league matches and now await the other results to know who would be their opponent in the play-offs for final positions.
In a match devoid of many openings for field goals, Pakistan had the first look at the Indian goal in the 13th minute when unmarked Shafqat Rasool received a cross from right on top of circle, but failed to beat goalkeeper Bharat Chetri with his reverse hit. Pakistan then forced two penalty corners in the next minute, but the Indian defence stood firm.
Not many goal-bearing moves were produced by either team and then Indian strikers finally exerted pressure to earn a penalty corner that was converted by Sandeep, who sent a rising drag-flick into the net to put India ahead in the half-hour mark. A minute later, Shivendra failed to trap Tushar Khandekar's defence-splitting cross from left.
Pakistan then forced two penalty corners in the last two minutes of the first half, but failed to cause any danger in the absence of ace penalty corner shooter Sohail Abbas who was off the pitch.
India earned their second penalty corner three minutes into the second half but also failed to cause any trouble with Sandeep not there to take the shot.
Abbas was back to take Pakistan's next penalty corner and saw his low shot being deflected out in the 45th minute. He made amends in the next penalty corner that came in the 59th minute by sending a grounder into the boards. India's defence came under a lot of pressure for 10 minutes in the second half as Pakistani strikers repeatedly broke through.
India went out looking for a late goal and forced their last penalty corner in the 67th minute, but Sandeep's rising shot was blocked by a defender.
Two minutes later, when a draw seemed on the horizon, Sardar's defence splitting pass from the centre created an opening that was converted by Sunil, who dived forward to push the ball in.
Pakistan have just three points from five games, having lost four successive matches after starting with a victory over Argentina.
Earlier, South Korea held Great Britain to a 1-1 draw, a result that severely affected favourites Great Britain's chances of making it to the final.
Great Britain now have eight points from five games, while South Korea have five from as many matches. New Zealand and Argentina, the other main contenders, have nine points each.
India's hockey coach Michael Nobbs was today delighted with his side's performance in the 2-1 victory over Pakistan, saying that his boys played better than their arch-rivals in the match to keep themselves in the race for a bronze medal.
"We deserved the victory and I'm happy at the way the boys played today. We tightened our defence, but we could have made better use of the chances we got upfront," said Nobbs. "We're in with a chance of getting the bronze here, and that should be a motivation for the boys. The boys have played a tough tournament in hot and humid conditions and we now have two days of rest before the last game," he said.