Kuantan (Malaysia), May 11: Defending champions India started their Asia Cup campaign on a disastrous note, going down 2-3 to arch-rivals Pakistan in a nerve-wrecking rain-marred Pool B match at the Wisma Belia Kuantan Hockey Stadium on Sunday.
With this win and the draw against China on Saturday, the three-time former champions Pakistan, who lost to India 1-2 in the Azlan Shah Cup here last month, are assured of a place in Thursday's semi-final, while India will have to win their last pool match against the Chinese on Tuesday to qualify for the last four stage.
India-Pakistan encounters have always been nail-biting and today's match was no exception with the traditional rivals starting the game on a high pace note and seemed in no mood to give an inch to each other.
Both the teams displayed very high speed and attractive hockey in the pulsating opening half with the ball continuously moving from one end to the other.
Pakistan was the more aggressive of the two sides and found the net as early as in the fourth minute through Tariq Aziz from the top of the semi circle but umpire John Right ruled out the goal due to an infringement and in turn gave a 16 yard hit to the Indians.
Stung by Pakistan's early attacks, the Indians stepped up their offensive and very nearly came to scoring in the 13th minute only to be denied by experienced Pakistan custodian Salman Akbar.
India opened the scoring against the run of play after Prabjot Singh converted a rebound from skipper Sandeep Singh's penalty corner in the 15th minute.
But with just two minutes remaining for the breather, Pakistan struck back with Hasneem Khan scoring with a reverse stick from a well build up counter attack.
Pakistan could have scored many had they not wasted several penalty corner attempts with the Indian defence standing tall.
Experienced centre forward Rehan Butt, who made a comeback to the national team in this tournament, made it 2-1 for Pakistan in the very first minute of the second half from a goalmouth melee.
India soon drew parity in the 10th minute through Rajpal Singh's field goal before heavy rains suspended play for nearly 40 minutes.
However, another comeback man, veteran Sohail Abbas, ensured a happy outing for Pakistan when he scored the winning goal off their fifth short corner in the 55th minute through a powerful dragflick which beat Indian custodian Baljit Singh hands down.
Thereafter, India got two penalty corners and a couple of chances to equalise, but they miffed it all with goalkeeper Akbar coming to Pakistan's rescue on many occasions.
SV Sunil was the star performer for India but was unlucky not to have registered his name in the scoreboard, while skipper Sandeep was off-colour as he wasted three penalty corners in the last 10 minutes of the match.