India may have won the gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics but the next few years gave Indian hockey fans very few opportunities to celebrate or matches to remembers.
This is probably why the comeback staged by Mohammad Shahid’s team against the mighty West Germany in the 1985 Champions Trophy group game is still looked at as a classic.
The two teams shared ten goals between them. The ruthless efficiency of the Germans, spearheaded by Carsten Fisher, had steamrolled India in the space of twelve minutes to take a commanding 5-1 lead in the game. Just when damage control seemed like the more sensible thing to do, a lion-hearted Indian side roared back to level scores in spectacular fashion.
In a breathtaking eight-minute spell leading up to the final whistle, the men in blue managed to find the net on four occasions. Thirty five years since this epic in Perth, one would be hard pressed to find an Indian side staging a fightback of this magnitude. What stood out in the end was the sheer audacity of chasing what seemed like a near-impossible deficit.
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India was clearly not a force to reckon with in the 80s and had lost ground even to arch-rivals Pakistan, who won a World Cup on Indian soil in 1982 and then bagged the Olympic gold in Los Angeles two years later.
But the form book went out of the window before the Champions Trophy’s tournament opener as India edged out Pakistan by a 2-1 margin.
The Indian side, though, were brought back to earth just over 24 hours later by hosts Australia, who defeated them 4-1. In that match, the Kookaburras took advantage of the tired Indian legs in the second half.
The procession continued in the next game against a well-drilled German outfit. India’s backline were cut to ribbons by Fisher and Co. Syed Jalaluddin had levelled scores with a well-taken penalty corner early into the second half but Fisher completed a hat-trick, a feat he’d achieved against Pakistan as well, while Stefan Blocher earned a brace.
To be fair, the Indians did show promise when in possession but stood helpless whenever Germany brought numbers forward on the break. While India lacked the cutting edge in the circle, their opponents were at their clinical best.
But as the clock ticked towards the finish line, Shahid was seen rallying his troops trying to construct attack after attack. The pressure finally paid off with India earning a penalty corner in the 62nd minute [This was a 70-minute game] and Mohinder Pal Singh duly converted to restore some pride even as the prospect of an embarrassing rout loomed large.
Shahid’s surging runs didn’t stop there. The skipper showed deft ball-control, found pockets of space and ran tirelessly. He deservedly got his side’s third, making no mistake in slotting home a rebound in a goalmouth scramble.
But the highlight of the nerve-wracking contest would come three minutes later. Twenty year-old fullback Pargat Singh received the ball close to the half-way line and dashed forward with verve and purpose. He continued his run, sliced open the defence, skipping past four defenders before coolly lifting it past German goalie Tobias Frank.
If archival footage was easily available in the country, the Jalandhar-born defender’s goal may well garner millions of views. That goal set the tone for Pargat to become one of the world’s best players in the years ahead. “It all happened so fast. Maybe the Germans did not expect it from me,” Pargat told India Today, as he struggled to explain his run few years later.
With time running out though, there was little chance to bask in his Maradona-esque brilliance. Incredibly, with four seconds left, India earned a penalty stroke. Future coach Joachim Carvalho, another full-back of promise, showed nerves of steel to find the roof of the net.
Eight minutes... four goals: A plot that would have looked surreal even in a movie trying to milk every ounce of jingoistic fervour from a viewer. However, it failed to inspire a turnaround in terms of silverware as India finished at the bottom of the pile following defeats to the Netherlands and Great Britain. Three years later, they had a miserable outing in the Seoul Olympics as well and the sport’s health has been erratic since.
But on that glorious day, Shahid, Pargat and Carvalho and Co, nonetheless, scripted a fairytale for generations to come. ‘Greatest game of all time’ or not, there can be fewer adverts to draw in a new set of fans into the sport.
Watch the Champions Trophy 1985 match between Germany and India here: