Pakistan’s bid to qualify for the first Asian Champions Trophy final received a major jolt when the Greenshirts suffered a shock 3-1 defeat at the hands of lowly-rated Japan.
Pakistan, playing their third match of the tournament, suffered its first loss but it was the low profile of their opponents that made the defeat painful. After overcoming Malaysia and China in the two games, the Greenshirts missed several opportunities and let Japan take control.
Pakistan were off to a flying start as Mohammad Rizwan scored from a close range in the fifth minute. However, Japan contained the Asian Games champions and levelled through Koji Kayukawa on a 35th-minute penalty corner as the teams went into the firs half tied at 1-1.
In the second half, despite an aggressive strategy by Pakistan, Japan took the lead in the 62nd minute through Kenta Tanaka before he completed his brace two minutes later to seal the 3-1 win.
Manager blames missed opportunities
Pakistan team manager Khwaja Junaid was critical of the team after the loss.
“It was a bad performance,” the manager told The Express Tribune from Ordos. “The team missed over 10 easy opportunities. Had they converted half of their chances, the result would have been different.”
Junaid felt the experimentation factor was also a reason behind the performance.
“It’s a stage when we’re trying to give exposure to the youngsters who feel the pressure of an international match and this affects the team’s consistency,” added Junaid.
However, he hoped the team will fight back in the matches against India and Korea.
“We’ve the potential to beat them but we’ll have to hit back with a better performance.”
India thrash Korea to go top
Meanwhile, after a 1-1 draw against Japan, India made a strong comeback to outclass Korea 5-3. The victory took them on top of the group table with two wins and a draw while Pakistan and Korea share second place.
Asian Games silver medallist Malaysia outwitted hosts China 4-2 to remain in contention for the final.
Legendary Olympian Samiullah said the shock loss to Japan reflects the Pakistan Hockey Federation’s (PHF) strategy, which he said was going against the team.
“The loss is a lesson for the PHF,” he said. “The federation should decide which team combination to play and whether to include seniors.”
He also questioned the decision to drop penalty-corner specialist Sohail Abbas and said the team is missing the experienced campaigner.
“We’re missing chances to convert penalty corners and we need Abbas for that. He’s one of the only few seniors who is fit enough to play the 2012 London Olympics.”
Team manager Khawaja Junaid
“It was a bad performance. It’s a stage when we’re trying to give exposure to youngsters who feel the pressure of an international match which affects consistency.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2011.