GOLD COAST: All the excitement came down to the last seven seconds as the Indian hockey team's perennial problem of conceding late goals left them with a disappointing 2-2 draw against a sloppy Pakistan in its Commonwealth Games opener here today.
A penalty corner earned in the last seven seconds, thought to be saved when taken, reinstated after an appeal by Pakistan, proved to be India's undoing in what was a lacklustre clash for most part but for P Sreejesh's brilliant saves.
Dilpreet Singh (13th minute), Harmanpreet Singh (19th minute) put India ahead before Mohammed Irfan Junior (38th minute) and Mubashar Ali (59th minute) drew parity and helped their team claim the moral victory.
"We were not happy with the performance. We wanted to win this game. We are disappointed with the result," said a frustrated Indian defender Rupinder Pal Singh after the match.
However, he refused to blame it on the nerves of playing against the arch-rivals.
"It's not special, we are playing a game. We were not emotional, just focusing on our strengths," he said.
It was touted as the blockbuster clash of the preliminary stage and the turnout, at least, lived up to the hype.
The diaspora of both the countries was out in good numbers.
But adding to the fervour were the Australian fans, who showed up to just soak in the excitement of an Indo-Pak clash. Not to forget the beat of the dhol, that usually amplifies the sloganeering, was also there adding to the atmosphere.
On the field, India dominated quite clearly despite being a bit sloppy themselves.
Forward Dilpreet opened the scoring in the first quarter, helping the last edition silver-medallists end the first 15 minutes with a 1-0 lead. In the second quarter, Harmanpreet Singh converted the second of the two penalty corner chances he got to put India in control.
Pakistan managed to earn a couple of penalty corners of their own but veteran Sreejesh guarded his citadel with the kind of elan that has made him a legend.
The Indians were clearly the superior outfit as far as controlling the ball was concerned, hoodwinking their rivals quite comfortably. A weak penalty corner shot taken by Rupinder that was easily deflected by Pakistan goalkeeper Imran Butt started the slight change in momentum.
The competitive edge missing from their game in the first half, the Pakistani team was pulled back into the game by forward Mohammed Irfan Junior, who scored a field goal to narrow the gap between the two sides.
The goal was initially in the name of Muhammad Arslan Qadir but Irfan Junior's faint touch was discovered during replays, prompting a revised credit.
Pakistan turned on the intensity in the final 15 minutes and were rewarded with three back-to-back penalty corners. But they just could not slot the all-important equaliser, denied by a solid Sreejesh and their own poor shots at the goal. Mandeep Singh then had the chance to increase India's lead in the dying minutes of the match but his shot was deflected.
With seven seconds left on the clock, Pakistan earned a penalty corner, causing some anxiety in the Indian camp, and the old fears turned out to be true.
The Indians ended up conceding the dreaded goal to let slip what should have been a comfortable win.