India vs Pakistan: Arch-rivals hockey battle at Asia Cup ends in a draw

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Pakistan's Ali Shan (L) and India's Gursahibjit Singh (R) fight for the ball during the men's field hockey third place match between India and Pakistan at the Asian Championship Trophy tournament in Dhaka on December 22, 2021Image source, Getty Images
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India and Pakistan have been rivals in hockey for decades

The Indian men's hockey team drew against arch-rival Pakistan in the first match for both teams at the Asia Cup on Monday.

India's Selvam Karthi scored through a drag-flick in the first quarter, giving the team an early advantage.

But the lead was dramatically cancelled by Pakistan's Abdul Rana who scored a thrilling goal with less than a minute left on the clock.

Both India and Pakistan have won the Asia Cup three times each.

India is aiming to defend the title it won in the last edition of the championship in 2017. The team will next take on Japan on Tuesday.

Like cricket, India-Pakistan hockey matches are high-voltage games for the two countries, rousing patriotic fervour on both sides of the border.

Both teams once dominated the sport, meeting each other in several Olympics and World Cup finals. But over the decades, cricket overtook hockey in terms of popularity in both countries.

India, however, has been steadily witnessing a resurgence in hockey - last year, the men's team beat Germany to win an Olympics bronze medal, its first in 41 years.

The team is currently ranked third in the world.

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"There is bound to be pressure while playing against Pakistan," the Indian team's vice-captain, SV Sunil, told reporters ahead of the match.

"We've been telling them [the team] not to get stressed. Treat it like any other match. Don't worry about the result, but just perform to win. Put in your best," he said.

The two teams last met in December at the third place play-off for the 2021 Asian Champions Trophy in Bangladesh - India won 4-3.

The Asia Cup is being hosted by Indonesia this year, with the final match set to be held on 1 June. The top three teams will also qualify for the hockey World Cup next year.

India already qualifies as the 2023 World Cup host - it will be held in the eastern state of Orissa (also known as Odisha) - but Pakistan will be looking to make the cut through this tournament.

Both teams are pinning their hopes on a crop of talented young players, along with some veterans.

"We have a lot of young players because we need to start rebuilding the team. They can only gain experience if they get to play," Pakistan's new coach Siegfried Aikman said last week.

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