On October 3, Great Britain played a match against Belgium’s hockey team at Lee Valley Hockey Centre at London to celebrate 30 years since their 1988 Olympic gold medal. On October 1 that year Great Britain had defeated Germany in the final of the Seoul Olympics.
This very month 50 years back, Pakistan’s hockey team also won the Olympic Gold. In 1968, they beat Australia in the final on October 27.
The story is worth recalling. As in the case of Great Britain in 1988, Pakistan had not been many people’s favourites.
Since 1962, Pakistan’s graph had been going downwards. They had lost both the titles, Olympics and Asiad, in 1964 and 1966, respectively.
Things went from bad to worse as Pakistan finished a miserable fifth in the pre-Olympic festival in 1967.
Air Marshal Nur Khan on becoming the President of the PHF in 1967 promised: “I would spare no effort to bring back the Olympics gold.”
Nur Khan brought Brig Manzoor Hussain Atif as the manager of the team in January 1968, nine months prior to the Mexico Olympics. This was Atif’s first major assignment although he had been manager in 1965 and 1966 in minor tournaments. The PHF fully supported him by arranging a tour of Kenya — a strong team of that time — and Uganda, inviting Kenya and Japan to Pakistan and staging a seven-nation tournament in Lahore. That helped Atif build a strong combination.
He made some courageous decisions. During his previous managerial tenure, he had unearthed a brilliant right-in in Ashfaq, literally from the roadside. But he had been sidelined since 1966. Ashfaq was recalled.
Goalkeeping was a problem. Those tried had been largely unimpressive. Zakir Hussain had been a part of the Pakistan side from 1954-63 before being dropped for an injury. He had recovered but couldn’t get the selectors’ nod. Disappointed, he stopped playing and withdrew to his village. Atif brought Zakir back after four years. The 35-year-old had gone quite weak. Atif paid special attention to his diet and training.
Saeed Anwar had been playing as a centre-half since the departure of Anwaar Ahmad Khan. Atif got him back to his original right-half position to bolster the right trio.
Abdul Rasheed Junior was originally a right-in. Atif switched him to centre-forward and trained him to become a poacher who could avail himself of even half chances.
Fazal-ur-Rahman was a great left-half and unlike conventional left-halves, an attacking one. On the other hand, Gulraiz Akhtar was not so flashy, only adhering to the prime task of defence. It was a bold move to prefer Gulraiz over the popular
Fazal, who was taken as a reserve.
Left-out Jahangir Butt was mainly played as the fourth half to assist the defence.
The main emphasis in attack was the right trio: right-half Saeed Anwar, right-in Ashfaq and right-out Khalid Mahmood.
Mexico is at a height of more than 7,000 feet, so Pakistan’s training camp was held at Lower Topa near the hill station of Murree.
The team was thus well prepared in every aspect.
Pakistan announced themselves as a serious contender in the very first match, trouncing the strong Dutch side 6-0, with Rasheed Jr getting a hat-trick. Next, they beat France 1-0.
In their toughest pool match, against Australia, Pakistan were trailing 1-2 at the half-time. They geared up in the second half with right-in Ashfaq making inroads. Skipper Tariq Aziz converted two penalty corners to see them through.
Then the Green-shirts romped past Argentina 5-0. As usual, Britain fought till the end, going down 1-2.
When Pakistan strolled past Malaysia 4-0, we had already qualified for the semi-finals. In the last pool match against Kenya we won 2-1.
Pakistan’s domination can be measured from the fact that they were five points clear of the second-placed team in the pool.
They carried the form into the semi-final, against West Germany: as many as 11 penalty corners came their way. Both full-backs, Tanveer Dar and Tariq Aziz, with six and two goals off penalty corners, respectively, had done well in the event but were hampered by the bumpy ground which made the ball stoppage difficult. Eventually, one of Tariq’s penalty corner strikes hit a German defender’s foot. The resulting penalty stroke was wasted by Saeed Anwar who pushed it straight on to the goalkeeper’s body. Even during extra time Pakistan’s best efforts remained fruitless.
Finally, in the sudden death period, the legendary right-out Khalid Mahmood cut inside from the gallery and beat three defenders almost in a straight line to score an exceptional individual goal.
In the final, Pakistan met Australia again. The Aussies had created history by defeating India in the semi-final, thus denying the latter a place in the final for the first time in nine Olympic appearances.
Pakistan started well and had better control of the game. In the 15th minute, brilliant Ashfaq, after taking a ball from the 25 yards, stepped aside Australia’s best full-back Brian Glencross before passing to centre-forward Rasheed Jr who in his customary style put the ball into the net in a flash. In the early second half, left-in Asad Malik got a golden chance from the top of the ‘D’. He flicked the ball over the goalkeeper but the Aussie left-half came from nowhere to clear the ball.
Nevertheless, in the 46th minute, the plucky Australians equalised through a penalty corner conversion by Glencross.
Once again, it fell to the brilliance of Khalid Mahmood to create the gold medal-winning goal. In his characteristic style, he cut inside from the right gallery, dribbled past a defender before passing the ball to the unmarked Asad Malik, who netted with a reverse flick.
About Khalid Mahmood, one journalist remarked: “His crosses were so accurate and precise as if he was drawing a line with a ruler.”
And this is how the famous British hockey journalist Patrick Rowley summed up Pakistan’s show in the tournament: “The Pakistanis fully deserved to win the gold medal. They played beautifully controlled hockey throughout. They were never flashy, just massively competent, masters in their defensive markings and brilliant at holding and releasing the ball at the right moment in the attack. They made hockey the simplest of all games.”
On return home, there were victory parades and huge public receptions, not only in mega cities but also in small towns such as Sialkot and Sheikhupura.
President Ayub Khan invited the team for a dinner at the President House. The players were rewarded with cash as well as agricultural land in Southern Punjab. The action photograph of Asad Malik’s winning goal of the final was reproduced on a postage stamp.
Goalkeepers: Zakir Hussain and Qazi Salahuddin.
Full-backs- Tanveer Dar, Tariq Aziz (captain) and Riazuddin.
Half-backs: Saeed Anwar, Riaz Ahmad, Gulraiz Akhtar, Fazal-ur-Rahman and Anwar Shah.
Forwards: Khalid Mahmood, Mohammad Ashfaq, Abdul Rasheed Jr, Asad Malik, Jahnagir Butt, Farooq Khan, Tariq Niazi and Laeeq Ahmad.
Scorers: Abdul Rasheed Jr 7 goals, Tanveer Dar 6, Asad Malik 5, Tariq Aziz 2, Tariq Niazi 2, Khalid Mahmood 1, Ashfaq 1, Gulraiz 1, Riaz 1.