Incheon: Winning the Asian Games hockey gold is one of the biggest moments in his life, said the triumphant India captain Sardar Singh after his team won the nerve-wracking shoot-out to end its 16-year gold medal drought in the Asian Games, earning a direct berth to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"This is one of the biggest moments for me. We came here to win the Asian Games and directly qualify for the Rio Olympics and we have achieved our aim," said a beaming Sardar at the post-match media conference at the Sianhok Stadium. (My Blood Boils When I Play Against Pakistan: Sreejesh)
India defeated arch-rivals and defending champions Pakistan 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out after the two teams were locked 1-1 in the regulation time of the summit clash.
Sardar, who led the country to only its third Asian Games gold in 15 attempts, heaped praise on coach Terry Walsh and the support staff.
"Pressure was there but he (pointing to coach Terry Walsh sitting beside him) and the other support staff made sure it was off when we went into the game," he said.
India had earlier won in 1966 and 1998, while Pakistan had won the title eight times in the past, including in 2010 at Guangzhou.
Coach Walsh described the gold medal victory as "a big moment for Indian hockey".
"I am very pleased for the team and the players. It's a big moment for the players and my congratulations to him (Sardar) and the players. It's a special moment for Indian hockey," he said.
Walsh said no matter how good the support staff might be, but finally the onus is on the players to deliver on the field.
Pakistan started off well but India took control in the second quarter and the coach said, "They played exactly like they did earlier. In the second quarter India took them apart. They (Pakistan) did not recover the lead again."
"Pakistan played the old style of hockey, but we played the modern game. That was the difference. Our players stayed mentally alert throughout. Playing with only passion is not enough. In our coaching group we have some real experience (to handle this)," he explained.
Walsh noted that the team had some very tight schedules -- the World Cup, followed by Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
"Now (with Rio berth booked) there's an opportunity to blood new players and rest some players. There has been a very heavy programme for these players. They have stood up to that very well. We have had only one injury (the groin injury sustained by Rupinderpal Singh against Oman in group stage). It had been a largely injury-free ride (as compared to the World Cup)," he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Pakistan coach Shahnaz Sheikh complimented his team for doing a wonderful job and ending with the silver medal despite not having played any international hockey over the last 11 months before coming here.
"I must compliment my young team of players for doing very well. They were excellent. We are a team of inexperienced players who have not played international hockey for 11 months. They took the lead. India are a mature team having played together for one and a half years - in World Cup, Commonwealth Games etc," said Sheikh.
"I took over the team only five months ago and we had only 100 days of training before coming here. And this was an India-Pakistan final happening after 32 years. I am sure in future with more playing experience, the team would do very well," he said.
The coach insisted that both teams were equal. "We scored one goal, they scored one. We had one penalty corner, they had two. There was hardly any difference between the teams," he reasoned.
Sheikh also said he was sure that India were playing for the penalty shoot-out when the fourth quarter came with the two teams level 1-1.
"I have seen their psyche and they had slowed down and were waiting for the penalty shoot-out."
Describing the final as a typical South Asian style of short, quick passes which was enjoyed thoroughly by the crowd, Sheikh took the opportunity to ask for the revival of India-Pakistan hockey series.
"India should come to Pakistan and play a series of matches to help our hockey get sponsors. As a family we should help each other," he said.