The business end of the tournament is now upon Pakistan as they take on world number five Great Britain in their all-important quarter-final clash in Antwerp in a bid to qualify for the Rio Olympics 2016.
Pakistan, who can give any side a run for their money on their day, have struggled so far in Belgium, with the win in their opening match against Poland being their only victory so far. That 2-1 triumph was followed by a 6-1 thumping at the hands of Australia and then two draws against India (2-2) and France (2-2).
Britain, on the other hand, come into the tie with two wins and two draws as they finished second in their group.
The men in green have struggled to carve open defences from open play and have had to rely on set pieces for their goals. Four of their seven goals in the tournament have come from penalty corners, meaning they are one of the deadliest teams from penalty corners. But they have only scored two goals from open play, with the seventh coming from a penalty stroke by skipper Muhammad Imran — who also missed a penalty stroke against France.
It seems that Pakistan know where their strengths lie. “We have been practicing on putting more variations in our penalty corners as we don’t want to miss any corner,” Imran told The Express Tribune. “In the past two days we have worked on converting using different variations along with countering our opponent’s strongpoints in order to improve our defence.”
The way in which the side conceded two needless goals against 18th-ranked France was a point of concern, especially considering the team’s lack of firepower to make up for it. “When we attack on turnovers, we have the tendency to be caught off-guard in defence,” said head coach Shahnaz Sheikh, under whom the team won silver medals at the 2014 Asian Games and the Champions Trophy. “Our defence struggled to block close-range hits, which is a result of poor coordination. We have worked on that too and will hopefully see better defending from the side.”
However, Sheikh ruled out sacrificing attack in order to shore up the defence, saying that the men in green will continue to play enterprising hockey. “We will still play attacking hockey and score as many goals as we can,” said Sheikh, before implying that the team just needs tweaking rather than wholesale changes.
Sheikh was quick to praise the players, saying they were fast learners and have already adopted the strategies and lessons he asked them to before their quarter-final clash. “The players have been given lessons and have adopted really fast throughout the tournament,” he said. “Britain are among the top five in the world, so we cannot be complacent.”
The head coach also said that Pakistan are just concentrating on the task at hand, rather than thinking ahead of finishing in the top three of the tournament, which will see them qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2015.
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