Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pakistan win back hockey gold

Fired-up Pakistan annexed the Asian Games men's hockey gold medal after 20 years with a convincing 2-0 win over Malaysia in the final on Thursday.Veteran Sohail Abbas put Pakistan ahead with his team's first penalty corner in the 26th minute, before striker Rehan Butt increased the margin three minutes after half-time.

It was Pakistan's eighth Asiad hockey gold, ending a drought that stretched back to Beijing in 1990, and handed them their first major title since winning the World Cup in Sydney in 1994.Pakistan ended the year on a high after a disappointing eight-month period in which they finished a humiliating 12th out of 12 at the World Cup in March and took sixth place at the Commonwealth Games in October.

The Pakistanis kneeled in prayer after the final whistle, before lifting their Dutch coach Michel van den Heuvel over their shoulders to loud applause from the stands.Malaysia, often dubbed the sport's perennial under-achievers, had to settle for silver in their maiden appearance in the title clash after winning the bronze medal six times.

The entire Malaysian team, barring Sikh player Baljit Singh, shaved their heads in a practice called 'nazar' to ward off evil spirits in the final, but failed to produce the spark that won them the semi-final against India.Amin Rahim, whose two late goals sank India, faltered in all three penalty corners his team earned in the second half.

Malaysia had gone into the final as the only unbeaten team in the competition with four wins and a draw.Meanwhile, India returned to the Asiad podium after missing out in Doha four years ago when they defeated favourites South Korea 1-0 in the bronze medal play-off.

Tushar Khandekar netted the winner four minutes into the second session as India dominated the lacklustre Koreans through the 70-minute encounter.India had not won an Asiad hockey medal for the first time in Doha and paid the price when they failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics two years ago.

The Indian players were involved in a heated argument with Pakistani umpire Haider Rasool over a disputed penalty corner in the second half, which the South Koreans ultimately wasted.India's Spanish coach Jose Brasa, whose contract is up for renewel after this match, said the bronze medal was not a just reward for his team."I think we were the best side in the competition, winning five of our six matches," said Brasa. "I can't say I am happy, but at least the boys will not return home empty-handed."

India, who won all their four league matches, were knocked out by a Malaysian golden goal in the semi-final.South Korea, winners at the last two editions in Busan and Doha, were denied a hat-trick when they lost to Pakistan in a penalty shoot-out in the other semi-final.The last time the Koreans finished fourth was in Beijing in 1990.

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