Incheon: The Indian hockey team's chances of going through to the knockouts were today dealt a blow after it crashed to a humiliating 1-2 loss against arch-rivals Pakistan in a Pool B encounter of the Asian Games here.
Sardar Singh-led India looked surprisingly listless in the high-octane encounter against the defending champions and eight-time title winners, in front of a vociferous crowd at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium.
For Pakistan, Mohammed Umar Bhutta (38th minute) and Mohammed Waqas (54th minute) scored, while Nikkin Thimmaiah (53rd minute) netted the consolation goal for the Indians.
After managing to keep their slate clean despite a fumbling deep defense in the first two quarters of the 60-minute game, besides frittering a couple of chances, India conceded the opening goal in the 38th minute when Bhutta found the mark from close range after a goalmouth melee on the second attempt.
Failure to clear the ball in time by defender V R Raghunath cost India this goal but they revived their supporters by notching up the equaliser 12 minutes later, in the fourth and last quarter, when a cross from the left by Kothajit Singh was met with a dive and deflected into the rival goal by roving forward Thimmaiah.
But the Indian joy was short-lived as off the very next minute Pakistan, in a superb and speedy counter-attack initiated by Shafqat Rasool, the panicky Indian defense was caught napping and Mohammed Waqas made no mistake off a rebound from custodian P R Sreejesh'a pads and slammed the ball in with his back to the goal.
That goal totally deflated the rising Indian hopes and they just could not get the second equaliser in the remaining time. This was India's first loss in three matches—after thumping 8-0 and 7-0 wins over Sri Lanka and Oman in their first two games.
India now need to win their final group game against China on September 27 to qualify for the last four, but today's loss has also made their task in the semis more difficult as they could encounter four-time champions South Korea who are expected to top Pool A.
It must be said that Pakistan attacked with more purpose than India right through - even in the goalless first two quarters.
Several mis-passes spoilt the Indian raids short of the desired end. The mid-field did not rise to the task on hand, and the list included captain Sardar who played almost the entire duration of the game.