Jakarta: The curtains couldn’t have come down on the hockey at the 18th Asian Games without a tantalising India v Pakistan encounter.
But the arch-rivals are not clashing in the finals — they have both missed out on a golden opportunity for a smooth passage to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games by missing out on gold.
They will now have to come through a gruelling qualifying round to ensure they book their ticket to Tokyo.
India lost to Malaysia 7-6 in a semi-final shoot-out after being tied 2-2 while a solitary goal was enough for Japan to dash Pakistan’s hopes.
Pakistan players were seen smiling after India’s loss in the stands but an hour later their fate too was sealed. For sure, that would have immediately triggered a similar euphoria in the India camp as well.
For years now, these two giants of Asian sport have found solace in beating each other while the world of hockey has moved forward without them.
Just when it seemed that India had taken giant strides by finish second at the Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy behind Australia in June, their lack of fire and intent against a robust Malaysian side, following some mammoth wins en route to the semis against minnows, has raised questions.
However, the intensity that was lacking in both India’s and Pakistan’s semi defeats will be back in abundance in this bronze medal contest. The match is more than a medal for them now. It has now become a matter of pride and survival — a convenient route to cover-up the Games setback. Both side are well aware that one act of brilliance and all those sloppy moments of the last match will be pardoned and many players who may have been on the way out could get a new lease of life.
It will be interesting to see how well India’s skipper PV Sreejesh and Pakistan hockey captain Mohammad Rizwan Sr will lift their players for this crunch outing. The contest will also be a test of nerves for both coach Harendar Singh and Roelant Oltmans — their tactics will be in spotlight.
“The past can’t be changed but the future is yet in our hands. We are committed for a better show against Pakistan, and even a bronze medal would be good enough to keep the momentum going,” said Harendar.
Pakistan team manager Hassan Sardar too was confident that his side will put their semi-final heartbreak behind them and go all out against India.
“We lost the contest because a stroke that was given was revoked by the television umpire,” he said. “Both umpires on field and television were Indians and that affected our changes. I’m confident that our boys will put the setback behind and put our best foot forward to clinch that bronze.”