Asian Games 2018: Subcontinental giants India and Pakistan set up a bronze medal match for the first time ever
The much-awaited India-Pakistan encounter at the Asian Games 2018 will indeed take place at Jakarta. The battle of the Titans, sadly, will not be for the coveted prize which both sides were so fervently hoping for.
Rahim Razie found a last-minute equalizer for his team, forcing a shootout which subsequently was prolonged into sudden death, and the Malaysians knocked defending champions India out of contention for a place in the final
Inexplicably, arch-rivals Pakistan suffered a similar fate as Shota Yamada scored off a PC in the 17th minute, and Oltmans' side failed to find an equalizer in spite of pressing hard. As a result, the Japanese have progressed to the final for the very first time in the men's event.
The Indians have, thus, failed to defend their title, and more importantly have also missed a golden chance to qualify for the Olympic Games.
The Pakistanis too have fallen short but perhaps, have a less arduous route to take, as they are part of the Hockey Pro League while the Indians are not.
The road to Tokyo gets tougher
It will be a long road to Tokyo for Harendra Singh's boys as the Indians are not part of the Hockey Pro League and have failed to earn a direct ticket to the Olympic Games after a shocking defeat to Malaysia in the semi-finals of the Asian Games.
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Spain are part of both the men's and women's Hockey Pro League, apart from Pakistan which is part of the men's edition only.
India is not part of the Hockey Pro League and, therefore, was left with only two routes to qualify for Tokyo 2020. The quickest and simplest route would have been to win the Asian Games title. The Indians have failed to do so and now have to reach Tokyo via the Hockey Series.
Old champions clash for Asian Games bronze
Subcontinental giants India and Pakistan have dominated continental hockey and have faced against each in the Games final on nine occasions but have never locked horns in a bronze-medal match.
The two sides last met in the final at Incheon in 2014, after a gap of 24 years and the Indians prevailed after a nail-biting shootout.
Sreejesh, the veteran of many battles, was the hero at Incheon and helped his team win gold after a gap of 16 years, but was unable to stem the flow of the Malaysians on Thursday in a shootout that went into sudden death.
Malaysia matched the Indians on the day
Malaysian brothers Faizal and Fitri Saari created havoc in the Indian circle with ample assistance from the experienced Tajuddin Tengku and Muhammad Razie Abdul Rahim, the dreaded drag-flicker, who scored a dream goal for his team in the 59th minute to stun the Indians and force a shootout.
The Malaysians had a goal which was disallowed as early as the 5th minute when Firhan Ashari found the back of the net with a superbly executed PC variation. But the ball had touched his foot in the process, and the Indians were quick to ask for a referral which was upheld.
In the 50th minute, Razie's powerful flick appeared to have ricocheted off the crossbar and Sreejesh was at his best during regulation time, saving a few certain goals.
It will indeed be heartbreaking for Harendra Singh, as the Indians had lost to Malaysia in the 2010 edition of the Games at Guangzhou when he was the coach, and Sreejesh and Co. failed to do any better in spite of a great performance in the Champions Trophy in June.
Harmanpreet Singh scored for the Indians in regulation time and was brilliant in the shootouts too, scoring twice.
It would be highly unfair to single out SV Sunil for the eventual result. In spite of a couple of misses in the shootout, he had a good match helping out in defence, and was brilliant with his attacking runs as well.
The Indians will now attempt to go all out to secure a win against their arch-rivals in the bronze medal match on Saturday, and hockey lovers will be pleased that a subcontinental clash will be on offer after all.