Pakistan’s Road to the Crossovers through the Pool of Death

Shayan Ehtesham

Placed in what many termed as the Pool of Death, 4 times Champion Pakistan was placed alongside World #4 the Netherlands, #6 Germany and Asian rivals Malaysia. In their 1st match scheduled on the 1st of December, Pakistan was to play against Germany who was considered a strong contender by many hockey analysts and pundits before the start of the tournament. With the game beginning at 19:00 IST at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Pakistan fought relentlessly against one of the best sides of the world. Pakistan’s defense, in particular, had their noses up as the side seemed ready to neutralize any attack poised by Germany. With only a goal separating the two sides coming in the 3rd Quarter, Pakistan, although having lost the game, had announced themselves at the World Cup.

In order to qualify at least for the Crossovers, a good show was expected from the Pakistan side when they took on familiar nemesis Malaysia on the 5th of December. The game remained an intense, end-to-end encounter for the most bits of the match, but both sides held each other to a goalless scoreline. It was only after a stroke of genius was the deadlock finally broken. Muhammad Atiq with a brilliant spin in the 51st minute threw the Malaysian goalkeeper off-guard and shot at the near post, giving Pakistan a 1 goal lead. Pakistan later had to settle for 1 point, courtesy some inspirational gameplay for Malaysia’s shining star Faizal Saari who scored from a sublime Penalty Corner in the closing moments of the 4th Quarter.

With Pakistan up against a side in red-hot form in the tournament and with significant squad strength, Pakistan was already at a disadvantage with skipper Muhammad Rizwan Sr. unable to partake in the game due to a foot injury. Regardless, Pakistan fought hard against the Dutch side as Umar Bhutta equalized in the 9th minute after Pakistan conceded a goal 2 minutes earlier. Pakistan fought relentlessly but was outclassed and overwhelmed in small phases of the game, which ensured the Dutch claimed their 2nd win of the Pool. Pakistan still secured a berth in the Crossovers mainly due to their exquisite defending throughout the tournament.

The schedule has been set and Pakistan is to yet again to face a top-notch side Belgium, ranked 3rd in the World, on the 11th of December. The game against Belgium could not have been more crucial as Pakistan would be looking to perfect Penalty Corners, further improve defensive techniques and analyze Belgian weak points; victory in the game would hand them qualification for the Quarter-Finals. It is all to play for the Green Team.

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