A packed hockey arena at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex (SQSC), patriotic chants from supporters of both the countries, pleasant weather and a quality game that saw India extend its recent domination over its arch-rival with a 3-1 win. It couldn't have been a better way to end a weekend for sports fans in the sultanate.
The last time the two teams met was in the Jakarta Asian Games bronze medal playoff, which India won 2-1. Saturday’s match was the 175th match between the two rivals and the first to be played in Muscat.
It was India’s second successive win at the Asian Champions Trophy after it had got off to a flying start on Thursday with a 11-0 win over hosts Oman.
However, India was in a for an early shock on Saturday as hardly had the match begun, Pakistan scored with fans still settling down on their seats.
The defending champion rallied after conceding a goal in the opening minute in a match that showcased sub-continental hockey at a high level.
Goals from captain Manpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh and Dilpreet Singh scored in open play clinched India's victory after Pakistan’s opening-minute strike by Muhammad Irfan Jr on a penalty corner.
The match was an exhibition of clean attacking hockey at its best in the showpiece preliminary league contest of the six-nation event. Pakistan surged ahead in the opening minute when Irfan Jr picked up a penalty corner rebound from goalkeeper P R Sreejesh’s pads and scored with a deft flick into the goal’s left corner.
Stung by the reverse, India went all out into the attack, forcing two penalty corners in the fourth minute and made a couple of forays into the rival circle, but Pakistan’s defenders kept them at bay.
Skipper Manpreet Singh restored parity for India in the 24th minute with a fine solo run down the centre as he dribbled past three defenders to flick the ball into the right corner, wide of goalkeeper Imran Butt’s reach.
Mandeep Singh then put India ahead in the 31st minute by shrugging off his marker to create space in the circle and placing the ball in the goal’s left corner. Young striker Dilpreet Singh, who had scored a treble in the opening match, increased the lead to 3-1 in the 42nd minute.
Charging in from the right flank, Dilpreet fired a shot that was blocked by Pakistan’s custodian, but the striker picked up the rebound and swept the ball into the goal.
Ahead of the start of the match, Sreejesh was honoured for his 200th international game by Harendra Singh while Pakistan’s Tasawar Abbas was honoured for his 100th match by his team manager and former hockey great Hasan Sardar.