From Agha Akbar
LONDON–After the gut-wrenching defeat at Australia’s hands, Pakistan somehow lifted itself to outscore South Korea 3-2 for its third win of the tournament. This saw the greenshirts move up the world ranking, albeit by just one notch – from eighth to seventh, while South Korea went down two places. Nothing momentous in itself, but since the Champions Trophy field has now been enlarged to eight nations, it just might earn Pakistan the invite to take part in the last of the annual versions at Melbourne in December, for according to the new FIH scheduling from then on it becomes a biennial affair
And, though it may be little consolation for a side that had set as its objective getting into the top four for the first time since the year 2000, seventh place is still better than eighth!
In the morning game, New Zealand overcame Argentina 3-1 to condemn the South Americans to the 10th position.
With India set to slug it out for the wooden spoon with South Africa on Saturday, this contest between the Asians for sizable snatches of time remained a rather listless affair where the exchanges were mostly in the midfield. Despite the sun on their backs for the first time here, Pakistan still could not find the rhythm and momentum up-front. Perhaps the skill to take approach work to its logical conclusion through a combo of finesse and power that fetches goals is something now alien to us.
Known in their best years in the 1990s for their speed, precision and opportunism that mirrored more the robust European style than the now-archaic sub-continental Asian, South Korea too were only a shadow of their best form.
With so little meaningful movement coming from Pakistan, one had this premonition that South Korea might put one away on the break. That is exactly what happened when against the run of play with six minutes remaining in the first half, Hye Sung Hyun diverted one to the board from close range. Pakistan response was swift, as Muhammad Waqas slammed the equalizer home from a Shakeel Abbasi pass. With two minutes remaining, Korea again surged ahead when Hyun finally got his second after a goalmouth scramble that seemed to go on forever with the Pakistan defence not succeeding in clearing the ball.
Pakistan protested but its lone video referral too failed it to win it the reprieve.
Three goals in four minutes, with Pakistan despite much better possession on the wrong end of the scoreline, was the story of the first half.
Back on the field, Pakistan stepped up the pace in search of goals that could land it victory. There was more cohesion and better method on display. Perhaps the best of Pakistan’s younger lot of forwards, Haseem Khan got the equalizer with aplomb: first attempt foiled, he muscled the ball in over the Korean ‘keeper Myung Hu Lee with reverse stick. And after the usual thing, Rehan Butt and Abbasi closing in on goal but not scoring, on a drag-flick in the 61st minute, Muhammed Imran got Pakistan the lead that survived till the end.
As is the norm, the same old platitudes were mouthed by Akhtar Rasool: “Our team was good; we just played one bad game”, etc., as usual rounding it off with “we shall have a winning squad by 2014 World Cup”.
It is so tiring to hear such banality. What Pakistan hockey needs is fresh ideas and new initiatives, not the same old political appointees who have ruled the roost for donkey’s years, making promises that they are so singularly incapable to keep.