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On the road to redemption

Some more time must be given to the Pakistan hockey team as it continues to walk the path to improvement

On the road to redemption

Hockey has been one of the most talked about sport in the country since the Green-shirts improved performance in the Champions Trophy 2018 although they came sixth in the event, the same position they got in this year’s Commonwealth Games.

They hadn’t lost any match in Commonwealth Games as there were few star-studded teams. But Champions Trophy is the toughest event—tougher than the Olympics and World Cup because of the little number of teams. The Green-shirts were invited due to the absence of Germany and because they were the founders of the Champions Trophy.

Critics know that Pakistan is a struggling side and they cannot jump into better position overnight. The Aussies baffled them 9-1 in the 4-Nation Tournament a few months ago, but in their Champions Trophy match the Green-shirts showed fight and lost 2-1 in a nail-biting encounter with the Aussies scoring the winner just four minutes before the end.

Pakistan defeated the Olympic champions Argentina 4-1, their biggest victory in the last two years. They also showed good skills against Belgium and lost in the penalty shootout.

Pakistan played well in the last three matches which is a sign that the team is gaining confidence.

Hockey has been revolutionized. Pakistan had been in disarray for a long time. No good side was ready to visit Pakistan. So we should remember that they cannot record wins in competitions like Champions Trophy, Olympics and World Cup just through training camps or participation in any 4-Nation Tournament.

After two years of hard work Pakistan have been able to rise and compete at the
international level and in Champions Trophy and Commonwealth Games showed that they are not under pressure against top sides.

When Pakistan were going to the Netherlands to participate in the Champions Trophy, it was evident that they would not do anything extraordinary against the world’s best teams who are way ahead of them.

Except for the defeat against India by 4-1, in all matches they were able to leave an impact, showing that they are better than the past.

Even against India the game wasn’t one-sided as the 4-0 score line suggests. India led by just one goal up until the 54th minute. A domino effect of sorts allowed India to score three goals in the last six minutes.

The last two goals came when Pakistan had replaced the goalkeeper with an outfield player. All the Indian goals came through open play.

They competed against the world’s best sides, losing by close margins. It was really an achievement for the 13th-ranked side which played a draw against Oman a few months ago.

Pakistan manager Hassan Sardar and head coach Roelant Oltmans stated that they took Champions Trophy as an opportunity to experiment ahead of the Asian Games. They are a much better side now, their confidence has gone up and they did not surrender against top sides as they had been doing in the past.

Their performance in both the events shows that they have learnt a lot about the modern-day hockey.

Oltmans had also said that Pakistan would be able to challenge the supremacy of all leading teams within two years. It was lack of experience of international matches which prevented Pakistan from winning against Belgium and Australia as the players came under pressure in the closing moments.

Their failure to maintain the lead, nervousness in the last moments, missing goal-scoring chances, and weak defence were exposed time and again. These shortcomings can be overcome only when Pakistan play international matches against strong teams regularly.

Pakistan have remained isolated for long. Foreign teams have not been coming to Pakistan. Neither have they been inviting Pakistan. Only by playing big tournaments like Champions Trophy can Pakistan start winning. We should give some more time to the team management and judge them in Asian Games 2018, where all participant teams will be of Asia.

 

Syed Intikhab Ali

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