COMMENT: Pakistan hockey at crossroads after Champions Trophy humiliation
IT has been a stark contrast for Pakistan if we compare the inaugural and the last editions of the Champions Trophy. The green-shirts were riding on crest of a wave starting from 1978, winning one event after the other but today national hockey is in complete shambles.
Pakistan, as expected, ended up at the bottom in the six-nation 37th and final edition of the Champions Trophy at Breda in the Netherlands. Though fraternity of the game back home was expecting no surprises from the three-time former champions, they were however, shocked by 4-0 humiliation against old foes India in the opening fixture.
India have improved leaps and bounds in recent past, which is evident from the fact that they played the Champions Trophy final and finished to Australia who the title-decider 3-1 victory in penalty shootout after it ended 1-1 in regulation time.
The final turned out to be a repeat of the last edition and the triumph gave the world champions Australia 15th Champions Trophy title. Unfortunately, this trophy eluded India in 40-years.
In other classification matches, hosts Holland handed a 2-0 defeat to Argentina in the playoff to seize bronze medal while Belgium were home 2-1 in a penalty shootout after 2-2 stalemate against Pakistan to attain fifth spot.
It was Pakistan’s fifth loss in six matches against India in 12 months (the other was when these teams drew 2-2 during the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast in April). Previously, Pakistan suffered four humiliating defeats — 7-1 and 6-1 in the World Hockey League at London in June last year and 3-1 and 4-0 in the Dhaka Asia Cup.
The most astonishing part of green-shirts’ 4-0 drubbing against India was that Pakistan conceded the last three goals in a six-minute duration. All the goals came through field efforts which reflect weaknesses in the defence and goal-keeping.
Pakistan went down to Australia 2-1 in their next match after taking lead in the ninth minute through field goal by Aijaz Ahmed.
The Netherlands whipped Pakistan 4-0 in their third match. After suffering three defeats, Pakistan managed to break the jinx with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Argentina, their solitary success in the event. Irfan Jr (10th), Mubashir (47th) PC, Aijaz Ahmed (48th) and Aleem Bilal (58th penalty stroke) scored one goal each.
In their last league fixture, Belgium thumped Pakistan 4-2. The latter’s both goals came through Aleem Bilal, via penalty corners, in the 11th and 38th minutes.
The Champions Trophy was the second important assignment for Pakistan’s Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans after the recent Commonwealth Games where Pakistan had to settle for seventh place among 10 nations despite them not losing any match.
The nature of Champions Trophy was different as compared to the Commonwealth Games as only three of the six teams — Australia, India and Pakistan — were common.
The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has been targeting the 18th Asian Games, which run from Aug 18 to Sept 2 in Jakarta, in order to earn direct entry for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
However, it will be a Herculean task for Pakistan in the wake of recent failures against reigning Asian champions India. The Asian Games won’t offer Pakistan much respite because other outfits, such as Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, could test them to the hilt.
It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan lost 4-2 to India in the shootout after being tied 1-1 in regulation time at the Incheon Asian Games four years back.
The PHF faces race against time to instill confidence in the already demoralised national team before the Asian Games begin. The Asiad will be followed by World Cup in the Indian city of Bhubaneswar from Nov 28 to Dec 16 and that will be another huge challenge for Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018