KARACHI: The Pakistan hockey team got off to a winning start at the 25th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup as Mohammad Arslan Qadir scored a brace to guide the Greenshirts to a 3-1 win over Canada 3-1 in Ipoh, Malaysia yesterday.
The tournament’s opening match did not live up to expectations in terms of quality as both teams struggled not only with the weather but also with their overall game plans — Canada, in particular, couldn’t handle the heat.
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Pakistan coach Mohammad Khawaja Junaid feels the win will spur his players on. “It is a good start for us and it will motivate the younger players for the coming matches,” said Junaid while talking to The Express Tribune.
With valuable international experience on offer, Junaid is looking forward to using the tournament to help build the team. “We tried some new ideas and game plan. We will be doing so in the next few matches too and hope to see how it fits into our usual playing style,” he said. “This tournament is really important for us to analyse the team’s performances.”
The 50-year-old felt the senior players are playing really well, but knows a tough match against New Zealand lies ahead. “We have two days before the match [against New Zealand], and we will look at how they play against Malaysia and Canada.”
Rizwan Ali had two opportunities to give Pakistan an early lead in the first quarter, but was unable to convert and fluffed the two chances that fell his way in the fifth and 12th minute.
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It was more of the same in the second quarter as Pakistan dominated but were unable to convert it into something tangible. That changed when Qadir picked up a through pass inside the semi-circle and blasted the ball past onrushing Canadian goalkeeper Scott Tupper in the 27th minute to take a 1-0 lead.
Sensing weakness, Pakistan had a go at the Canadians and just a minute later, Qadir converted from a penalty corner to make it 2-0 in their favour.
“The coaches came up with the game plan and we executed it perfectly,” said Qadir. “We have a tough match ahead against the Kiwis but we hope to keep them at bay.”
Canada pulled one back in the 48th minute to halve the deficit and haul themselves back in the game but Richard Hildreth’s strike proved academic as Pakistan restored their two-goal advantage soon after.
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This time it was Mohammad Arshad who converted from a penalty corner in the 52nd minute to make it 3-1 to Pakistan. The strike ensured Pakistan top the rankings after the first day’s play on goal difference.
In the second match of the day, India completed a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Japan. Kenji Kitazato gave them a surprise lead in the 17th minute but their joy was short-lived as Harmanpreet Singh equalised in the 25th minute before skipper Sardar Singh scored the winner in the 32nd.
Later in the day, New Zealand played out an entertaining 3-3 draw against hosts Malaysia.
Malaysia took the lead in 15th minute through Firhan Ashaari’s goal, while Razie Rahim doubled the lead in 44th minute and Shahril Saabah scored in 48th minute. New Zealand’s Nick Wilson scored two goals in the 22nd and 34th minutes while skipper Simon Child netted the equaliser in the 55th minute.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2016.
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