Pakistan, India put it all, except goal, on line Field hockey scoreless tie saves face, but not medal

Atlanta Olympics

July 27, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- For India, for Pakistan, for more than a billion people on the Asian subcontinent, this was the Olympics:

Men's field hockey. The scalpers got $150 a ticket. The security lines were backed up 200 deep as nearly 15,000 fans poured into Morris Brown College's stadium. And armed federal marshals hung around the field.

These two neighbors, who have gone to war and who have often waged a hostile peace, met in the Centennial Summer Olympics yesterday, and played to a scoreless draw that sent Pakistan out of the medal chase, and all but eliminated India.

Call it mutually assured sporting destruction.

"If we lose, it is a big problem," said Pakistani star forward Shahbaz Ahmed. "We cannot go back. And if India loses, they cannot go back."

Now, that's a sporting rivalry.

"What is the pressure of a coach of India?" said India's coach Cedric D'Souza. "The hearts of a billion people looking for a gold medal."

You want pressure? You've come to the right sport.

India's press corps is filled with a bunch of ex-players who ask such questions, as: "Did you try hard enough?" And the coach actually answers the critics.

"Why not?" he said. "It is only right. They have an opinion. I will answer them."

India, once the world's dominant field hockey power, winner of eight Olympic golds, hasn't earned an Olympic medal since 1980. An ex-police chief who ordered a crackdown on Sikh extremists was brought in to head India's field hockey delegation. D'Souza, an ex-purser with Air India, was named the coach.

New administration. But the same old story.

Pakistan, winner of three Olympic golds and the reigning world champion, also had troubles, with a player revolt forcing a coaching change. Ahmed, the country's best player, didn't even show up until 24 hours before the Olympic tournament began.

But all the troubles disappear whenever the teams meet, usually on neutral turf. When they play in each other's country, well, the players usually are trying to design an escape plan.

"If I play in India, this I do fear," Ahmed said. "The last time we were there, a few people attacked us on the bus."

There wasn't about to be an attack from this crowd, filled with fans from both countries who live in the American south.

"Oh, on the field, they are playing like they are fighting an enemy," said Hyder Ali, who was wearing a Pakistan shirt and waving a Pakistani flag. "Any sport, any place, it's usually wild."

Dipen Jhaveri, born in Bombay, came down from Blacksburg, Va., to see this one game.

"This isn't like an American rivalry," he said. "This is serious. The only thing that'd be wilder is if we were playing cricket."

A fan actually eluded security and got on the field. He was ousted within seconds.

"Maybe he was there for the beer, " said Pakistani coach Samiullah Khan.

As for the game, it was tense, it was fluid, but in the end, it was tied because the referee disallowed three goals. India nearly won in the final minutes, but the referee waved off a goal because the ball was rising dangerously off the stick of Harpreet Singh.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a clear goal," D'Souza said.

Now, the game's two historic powers, are left with the unsettling prospect of playing for fifth.

Think that is going to go down well with more than a billion people?

"You know what a full balloon feels like when it's pricked?" D'Souza said. "It's heartbreaking. That's how I feel right now."

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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