Guangzhou, Nov 20: Penalty corner specialist Sandeep Singh struck twice to power India to a 3-2 win over Pakistan and into the semifinals of the Asian Games men's hockey tournament here today.
It was India's fourth straight victory over Pakistan this year.
Sandeep Singh scored India's first and third goal in the third and 48th minute while Dharamvir Singh netted a fine field goal in between to ensure India's third successive victory in Group B.
Rehan Butt (fourth) and Shakeel Abbasi (43rd minute) scored for Pakistan.
With nine points in their kitty, India are sitting on top of the table with one match to go against Japan tomorrow.
Both Pakistan, who play Bangladesh in their last league match, and Japan have six points from three matches.
In total contrast to their previous three victories over Pakistan this year -- 4-1 in the World Cup, 4-2 in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament and 7-4 Commonwealth Games -- today India had to work quite hard and deal with a lot of pressure, especially in the second half.
It was India's third victory over Pakistan in 12 Asian Games clashes and 48th overall in 146 clashes.
Both the teams found it difficult to control the ball on the bouncy pitch, which has come in for severe criticism here.
India negated the Sohail Abbas factor by conceding only a late penalty corner to the famed striker in the 57th minute as Chetri stopped the drag-flick with the stick and sent it over the bar for a corner.
For India, the players who caught the eye were Sardar Singh who was rock solid in deep defense.
Vikram Pillai was the hardworking midfielder while Tushar Khandekar was his ebullient self up-front and Arjun Halappa did his bit while Sandeep was poor in defending but excellent with his drag-flicks.
Both the goals conceded by Rajpal Singh-led India were off defensive errors.
On the first occasion there was none to intercept a pass from the right sent in by Pakistan's Shafqat Rasool to their key man Rehan, who had enough time to send the ball past Indian custodian Bharat Chetri with a shot taken through his legs.
The penalty corner through which Sandeep scored India's opening goal was a result of a move from the right flank. He drag-flicked it to the right of rival custodian and captain Zeeshan Ashraf.
Pakistan equalised immediately on the counter attack which caught the Indians napping.
But India struck a superb goal midway through the first half to again put its nose ahead. Dharamvir connected the ball superbly, while on the run, sent in the D by Shivendra Singh.
Crossing over, Pakistan were aggressive initially and came close to scoring on two occasions within the first five minutes. But India escaped as Abbasi hit over the bar and Chetri was alert enough to foil a concerted move from right.
The Indian goal was breached finally when both Sandeep and Mahadik were found wanting to prevent Abbasi from taking control of a thorough pass into the D sent from the 25 yard line. The former delayed in clearing and the latter just could not prevent the player from taking a shot though he was nearby.
But India struck back within five minutes to score the all-important goal of the match by earning their second penalty corner of the match with a move from the right.
Sandeep made no mistake to score his eighth goal of the tournament.
Pakistan then earned their first and only penalty corner but Sohail failed to convert it and then Sardar Singh blocked Rehan Butt's effort right in front of the goal line with his stick in time to deflect the shot above the bar.
India then pressed hard for another goal to seal off Pakistan's escape route, and also earned a last-minute penalty corner which was taken after the long hooter, but for the first time Sandeep Singh failed to convert.
India coach Jose Brasa slammed the pitch conditions.
"It was very difficult to control the ball on this pitch. We had a problem in the build up of moves. We had to play a controlled and tactical game. But now we need only one more point to top our group," he said. PTI