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‘Scheduling cost us the final’

In October 2016, Pakistan’s women hockey team participated in the Asian Hockey Federation Cup in ...

‘Scheduling cost us the final’

In October 2016, Pakistan’s women hockey team participated in the Asian Hockey Federation Cup in Thailand. It was after three years that the Pakistani girls appeared in any international event. They performed beyond expectations by finishing fourth in the nine-team competition — Pakistan women hockey’s finest showing.

Recently, Pakistani women team figured at the Women’s Hockey Asian Challenge in Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Bagawan. Originally scheduled to be a six-team event, it was reduced to a three-side competition after the withdrawal of three countries.

Hong Kong China (ranked 38th), Pakistan (58th) and the hosts Brunei (67th) played each other twice in the double league, followed by the final. Apparently, it went as per the rankings.

In the double league, Hong Kong China won all their four matches, including two against Pakistan by the scores of 3-0 and 2-0.

Pakistan defeated Brunei by the same margins of 4-0 in their two meetings.

In the final, Hong Kong China went past Pakistan by the score of 4-0.

Pakistan team’s head coach Saeed Khan was a much satisfied man with his team’s showing.

The twice Men’s World Cup winner as a player (1978 & 1982) and the coach of Pakistan’s World Cup-winning team of 1994, was also the coach of the women’s team at the 2016 AHF Cup.

“We reached Brunei after a 16-hour journey. The very next day, Pakistan faced Hong Kong China and lost 0-3. The display wasn’t good at all. Had it not been for the brilliance of Rizwana Yasmin in the goal, we might have lost by a bigger margin. Even, in the 4-0 win against Brunei, the performance was poor. It was in the second tie against Hong Kong that the girls displayed their true potential. Although the opponents went ahead by two goals inside 20 minutes, thereafter Pakistan were the better of the two sides. They created many open play chances besides earning a few penalty corners but the poor conversion let them down. The good work continued in the last match of the league; Pakistan defeating Brunei 4-0.”

The upward graph made Saeed confident for the final.

“Despite losing the two league matches against Hong Kong China, I was hoping for a win in the final. The girls’ performance got better with each outing and they were peaking at just the right time.”

Hong Kong China won the final against Pakistan 4-0. The margin of the defeat was even bigger than that of the two league matches. Yet, Saeed maintains Pakistan could have won. “The final was Pakistan’s third game on successive days. This flouts the FIH rules which clearly state that in any international event, a team won’t play more than two matches on consecutive days. Hong Kong China had had the rest day before the final. That made all the difference.

“In today’s fast-paced hockey at the top level, rest is essential for recovery. Kalsoom Shahzadi had a thigh injury and couldn’t play the final. In all probability she would have been fit had there been the mandatory two-day gap. Our prolific scorer Hamra Latif played the final with a rib injury.

“Despite all this, Pakistan put up a remarkable show in the final. They held the upper hand most of the time. Hong Kong China’s bench appeared perplexed. It was score-less after 50 minutes. Everyone had started thinking of the shoot-out. Ultimately, the fatigue of playing third match on successive days told. The girls got tired and gaps appeared. The Hong Kong team fully benefited from that and scored four goals.”

Did the Pakistani management raise the issue with the officials?

“As you know the tournament’s draws were revised after late withdrawals of some countries. That led to this unjust schedule for our team. We did make a verbal protest to the technical delegate. She simple replied ‘the schedule was approved by the FIH’.

“As far as the result goes, the AHF Cup saw Pakistan women hockey’s finest; fourth position among nine nations. However, from the technical point of view, I rate the Brunei performance better. The 58th ranked Pakistan played at par with the 38th ranked Hong Kong China in the second league tie and could have defeated them in the final.”

Areas showing improvement and those needing improvement

“Defence did very well. Poor conversion of the scoring opportunities was the bane of the team.”

Individual players who shone

“Mayira Sabir was declared Player of Tournament. Among forwards, Hina Pervaiz was outstanding while Nafisa was a tower of strength in the defence. Of the new girls, the 17-year-old Hamra Latif was a revelation. She was Pakistan’s top scorer and also notched a hat trick. I must also mention the physio, Ms Nafisa Fajr. It was her first assignment with us. Her professionalism and commitment is praiseworthy.”

Saeed appreciated Pakistan High Commission and expatriates

“The High Commission staff was there to receive us at the airport. Then they arranged receptions for the team, one at the High Commission and another at a hotel. Pakistanis in Brunei were also very hospitable. Almost every day, we had meals at the restaurants owned by them.”

Future assignments

“There is no substitute for international exposure. The PHF is trying to get more tours for the women. With each outing, the girls are improving. If it continues, Pakistan can hope for a place in the Asia Cup, the top tier continental event.”

Ijaz Chaudhry

Ijaz Chaudhry
The author is a freelance sports journalist. He may be reached at [email protected]

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