KARACHI: Pakistan faced its most productive day in the current Asian Games as its hockey team defeated Malaysia 2-0 in the final to claim gold after 20 years. The win not only handed Pakistan their first major title since the 1994 World Cup but also handed the Greenshirts a direct route to the 2012 London Olympics.
Not to be sidelined was squash that the country reigned in for decades as Pakistan beat Malaysia in the team event to win a third gold in China.
However, Pakistan were stunned by rapid-risers Afghanistan in the cricket semi-finals and will take on Sri Lanka in a bronze-medal playoff today. Pakistan also lost to Iran in the kabaddi semi-finals but the 17-16 defeat confirmed a bronze.
Triumph after 20 years
Following a poor run-in to the event, Pakistan hockey team owed much to their goal-keeper Salman Butt for the gold. The team had finished bottom at this year’s World Cup held in India earlier this year and ended a dismal sixth in the Commonwealth Games.
World-record holder Sohail Abbas struck Pakistan’s first goal of the final, a lethal drag that ended in the top left corner as the former World Champions led 1-0 at the interval. Pakistan enjoyed a perfect start to the second half when forward Rehan Butt doubled their lead after an easy execution.
“Pakistan hockey has come back to life after the triumph,” former chief selector and Olympian Hasan Sardar told The Express Tribune. “Pakistan badly needed the breakthrough and this win will go a long way in national hockey’s revival.”
Squash gold after 12 years
Pakistan squash team also put up a fine display in the final where they shocked top-seed Malaysia to win a gold medal after 12 years. In the final, Farhan Mehboob beat Ong Beng Hee 11-4, 11-4 to make it 1-0 while Aamir Atlas, who won silver in the individual event, avenged his final-loss against Azlan Iskandar with a 14-12, 15-13, 11-4 win to seal the win for Pakistan.
Setback in cricket
Labelled favourites, Pakistan suffered the biggest upset of the even when Afghanistan beat them by 22 runs in the semi-final, ending their dream of a clean sweep of the cricket event after the women’s team won gold. Afghanistan, coached by former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif, showed splendid performance with the ball to restrict favourites to only 103 for seven while defending 125.
Kabaddi team takes bronze
Pakistan kabaddi team, which was expected to meet India in the final, bowed out of the competition after going down against Iran in the semi-final. It was a stunning display by Iran who won the match 17-16 in a nail-biting finish.
PHF President Qasim Zia
“Pakistan have crossed the first hurdle towards revival of hockey. We’re delighted with the team as they’ve attained top position at any level after a long time.”
Hockey captain Zeeshan Ashraf
“It’s a double delight for me. We won the Asian Games gold medal after a long wait of 20 years and also ensured an Olympic berth by achieving that.”
Cricket captain Khalid Latif
“I knew Afghanistan’s strengths because most of them play in Pakistan’s domestic cricket but I was not expecting they would beat us.”
Squash legend Jansher Khan
“The gold in squash is a much-needed boost and will give players the confidence that they need for the
future. We have the best talent in world.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2010.