12:42 am
26 May 2024

Pakistan Reach First Asian Games Final For 13 Years

30 Sep 2023

The brilliant form of Pakistan at the 19th Asian Games continued at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre in Hangzhou, China, where the fourth seeds took down No.3 seeds Hong Kong to reach the men's team squash final for the first time in 13 years - to face rivals India after the top seeds downed defending champions Malaysia.

The women's final, meanwhile, will be contested by No.1 seeds Hong Kong and No.2 seeds Malaysia after they beat India and Republic of Korea, respectively.

Pakistan entered the Asian Games Men's Team Championship as underdogs, with the team seeded fourth and without an appearance in the final since the inaugural championship in 2010.

After an impressive pools stage in which they beat No.1 seeds India to top the pool, Pakistan came into the semi-final rejuvenated.

In the first match, 19-year-old Noor Zaman was in inspired form, with the powerful world No.113 giving his side the lead with a 12-10, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8 win over world No.51 Henry Leung.

Pakistan looked on their way to winning it with a match to spare when Muhammad Asim Khan dominated early on against Tsz Kwan Lau, but the 27-year-old came back well to force the tie into a third match with a 60-minute 3/2 win.

From the opening rallies of match three it seemed inevitable that Nasir Iqbal, who has been playing some of his best squash in Hangzhou, would get Pakistan over the line.

The 29-year-old, part of the Pakistan team that crashed out in the pools stage in 2014, controlled proceedings against Ming Hong Tang throughout, wrapping up the win in straight games.

Afterwards, Iqbal said: "The first match was important. When Noor won, all the team and all the players got a lot of confidence.

Pakistan will take on fierce rivals India tomorrow, with the top seeds no doubt eager to settle the score after a disappointing defeat to Pakistan earlier this week.

India's Abhay Singh, up against Malaysia's Addeen Idrakie - who was rested by Malaysia yesterday - played his best squash of the tournament so far to give the top seeds a morale-boosting lead with a 3/1 win.

Indian No.1 Saurav Ghosal then followed this up with a high-octane 3/1 win over Eain Yow Ng to send India into the final for the first time since he helped his team to the 2014 title.

Afterwards, Ghosal commented on a second clash with Pakistan this week: "We probably didn't play as well as we possibly can as a team, but that takes nothing away from [Pakistan].

"You have to give Pakistan credit for the way they have played this entire week. They've been very good and won all their matches. They are flying high and playing really well."

In the women's event, play went to seedings, though it was far from smooth sailing for top seeds and defending champions Hong Kong in their tie against No.3 seeds India.

The favourites - both in seeding and with the Hangzhou crowd - got off to a perfect start when Chan Sin Yuk dispatched Tanvi Khanna in just 20 minutes and looked to be on their way to a comfortable win when their No.1 Tomato Ho took the first game against Joshna Chinappa.

The 37-year-old, however, had other ideas. Chinappa, playing in her sixth Asian Games, began to pick off Ho's attacks and then, as confidence drained from the world No.24, pressed on to level the tie with a 3/2 win.

This put the tie in the hands of 29-year-old Lee Ka Yi and 15-year-old Anahat Singh.

To the joy of the crowd, Lee's experience seemed to prove the difference, with the fourth string, playing ahead of Tong Tsz-Wing, hitting her targets well as she went 2/0 and 10-2 up.

Incredibly, Singh saved those eight match balls to force a tie break, but was unable to push on, with Lee eventually seeing out the last game 12-10.

"[The crowd] is great. The applause and cheers are big and it gives me a lot of motivation," Lee said afterwards.

Hong Kong will take on old rivals and two-time winners Malaysia in the final after the No.2 seeds confidently overcame No.5 seeds Republic of Korea 2/0 after straight-games wins for Aifa Azman and Sivasangari Subramaniam.

"We're all in a great state of mind; we're all positive and hope to get the win tomorrow as well," Subramaniam said afterwards.