Azlan Shah feat rekindles hockey renaissance hope

Pakistan's brilliance ends in penalty heartbreak

Newsd May 11, 2024


Despite the dream of hoisting the coveted cup slipping through its fingers on Saturday, Pakistan's hockey team has sparked flickering hopes of a national game renaissance after decades of dormancy.

The team's spirited performance in the prestigious tournament showcased its resilience and skill, even though it ultimately conceded the Azlan Shah Cup final to Japan in a 4-1 penalty shootout defeat.

Captain Ammad Butt and his squad, who had dazzled spectators throughout the tournament with unbeaten streak, marched undefeated to the grand finale. However, they stumbled at a critical juncture in the final showdown.

The team struggled to convert on penalty corners during regular play, failing to capitalise on eight opportunities. The lapse proved costly as it then faltered in the decisive penalty shootout, managing just one goal in three attempts, ultimately conceding the title to Japan by a scoreline of 4-1.

Earlier, in a nail-biting match, Japan took the lead with a field goal in the 12th minute, but Pakistan turned the tables by scoring two goals in seven minutes to pull ahead 2-1.

Just when it seemed Japan was down for the count, they managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat, scoring the equaliser eight minutes before the final whistle, making it 2-2.

Read more: Pakistan hold New Zealand to draw in Azlan Shah clash

The Green Shirts' unbeaten streak during the round-robin stage of the Cup, with three wins and two draws in five matches, was a glimpse into the country's golden era when they ruled the game for over three decades, from the 1960s to the early 90s.

Their journey to the final of any major tournament since 2011 is a feather in their cap, thanks to the guidance of their capable and industrious Dutch coach, Roelant Oltmans.

Called upon by the Pakistan Hockey Federation as recently as early April this year, Oltmans performed miracles with the national team in his brief one-month tenure, steering it to the Azlan Shah Cup final.

All things considered, Pakistan's showing in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup should serve as a shot in the arm for the team's morale.

Over the past two decades, Pakistan hockey has been plagued by a slew of issues, including inadequate government backing, a scarcity of sponsors, meagre player salaries, subpar facilities, as well as corruption, favouritism, and limited international tours, to name a few.

To maintain the team's current momentum, it's crucial for the PHF to generously compensate the players for their stellar performance in Ipoh and secure a long-term contract for coach Oltmans.

Pakistan's next big challenge is the FIH Nations Cup in Gniezno, Poland, kicking off on May 31st.


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