KUANTAN (Malaysia): Defending champions Pakistan were undone by a superb comeback by India as they fell 3-2 to their arch-rivals in a high-voltage preliminary round match of the Asian Champions Trophy here on Sunday.

Strikes by Mohmmad Rizwan Senior and Mohammad Irfan Junior in the space of eight minutes in the second quarter had put Pakistan well in control after Pradeep Mor had opened the scoring for India in the 22nd minute.

But Rupinder Pal Singh converted a penalty corner in the 43rd minute and Ramandeep Singh scored in the following minute by deflecting in a diagonal cross from Talwinder Singh to seal victory for India.

“The result was not in our favour but we played well and enjoyed the game,” said Pakistan coach Khawaja Junaid, praising his young side for giving India a stiff competition.

“It was a brilliant game with a very high level of skills between two top teams. This was the best match we have played in a long time.

“The boys performed much better than the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup five months ago, which was the only tournament we have played since last year’s World League Semifinals in Antwerp.”

Pakistan’s inability to secure an Olympic berth for this year’s Rio Games had left them short of international fixtures and coach feels that some more experience against leading international teams would put Pakistan hockey back among the top nations.

“Pakistan will come out of this and we will hopefully progress into the semi-finals but we must win Japan and China [in our remaining matches],” added Junaid after his side opened their campaign with a 4-2 defeat to Malaysia before beating South Korea 1-0.

The defeat left Pakistan with three points from three outings, third in the six-team standings with the top four teams from the round-robin competition will advance to the semi-finals.

Malaysia lead on nine points as they booked their place in the semi-finals with a 7-2 victory over winless Japan in Sunday’s other match while India have seven points.

Back-to-back saves

Pakistan forced the first penalty corner in the opening minute but Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh pulled off two back-to-back saves.

The first quarter came to end with Pakistan dominating. They made at least three good moves and the Indian defence did well not to concede a goal.

India took the lead against the run of play in the when Mor on the right flank latched on to the ball that had deflected off a Pakistani defender. Mor darted into the circle and sent in a firm shot from a very narrow angle that beat goalkeeper Imran Butt to land on target.

After falling behind, Pakistan started counter-attacking with their captain Fareed Ahmed acting as the pivot.

And they were rewarded in the first minute after half-time as the Indian defence left Rizwan unmarked on top of the circle as he collected a long diagonal ball and sent a snap shot into the left corner of the boards.

Pakistan showed more intent in the game as they scored another goal in the 39th minute as Irfan capitalised on an attack from the left to shoot home in a crowded circle.

But out of nowhere, India scored two goals within a span of one minute in the dying minutes of the third quarter.

Rupinder converted the penalty corner with a rasping drag-flick that went high into the net before Talwinder’s deft pass was deflected into Pakistan’s goal by Ramandeep.

Later, Malaysia became the first team to check into the semi-finals when they outclassed Japan.

Aiman Nik Rozemi cracked open the Japan goalmouth in the 23rd minute, while the other goals were scored by Rashid Baharom (27th), Nabil Fiqri (33rd), Faizal Shaari (37th, 59th), Firhan Ashaari (44th) and Fitri Shaari (58th).

The Japan goals were was scored by Kenji Kitazato (59th) and Kentaro Fukuda (60th).