Three Olympic gold medals, four World Cups and being one the pioneers of the sport all counted for little as Pakistan lost 1-0 to Ireland in the FIH Hockey World League Semi-finals. As a result, for the first time in their illustrious history, the Pakistan hockey team has failed to qualify for the Olympics.
The men in green knew that nothing less than a win against 15th ranked Ireland in Antwerp, Belgium on Friday would suffice as they bid to finish fifth and retain any slim hope of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Read: Hockey World League: Pakistan humbled 6-1 by Australia
Despite the pressure, the side started off well and looked the better side at the start — bossing possession with 58% and receiving a penalty corner that was defended well by Kyle Good.
Pakistan also came close in the second quarter, with vice-captain Shafqat Rasool hitting an upright reverse shot just wide of the mark in the 17th minute.
Irish goalkeeper David Harte was then the hero as he smartly saved a Muhammad Rizwan Senior effort from close range in the 24th minute to ensure that the game remained 0-0 at half-time.
The Irish started the second half brightly as Stephen Dowds shot in the 33rd minute sailed over keeper Butt. Just three minutes later, Azfar Yaqoob was shown a green card for a foul on John Jackson. The Irish took full advantage of their numerical supremacy, taking full control of the match. Ronan Gormley’s strong snapshot in the 38th minute produced a brilliant save from Imran Butt.
Perhaps galvanised by their keeper’s heroics, Pakistan upped the ante themselves; Umer Bhutta producing a save from Harte. Despite the highly entertaining third quarter, it still remained 0-0 going into the break, thanks largely to the two keepers.
It was all-out attack from both sides in the final quarter but it was Ireland who succeeded in breaking the deadlock. A penalty corner was successfully converted by Alan Sothern, who hit a low flick through Butt’s legs into the goal in the 46th minute to give Ireland the precious lead.
Read: 2016 Olympic qualifiers: Pakistan secure third place after draw
The Irish then shut up shop, looking to defend their slim advantage. It almost backfired as Pakistan won a penalty corner five minutes from time, only for Muhammad Irfan to shoot wide in the 56th minute.
The men in green finally managed to put the ball in the net in the 58th minute but it didn’t count as the final touch had been outside the D. It was clear that it was not to be Pakistan’s day and the final whistle blew soon after, ending their slim hopes of Olympic qualification.
Regretting the missed opportunities
The result has understandably left a bitter taste in the mouths of former hockey greats. “The team had the best chance to seal their berth at the Olympics after missing direct entry through the Asian Games,” Olympian Samiullah Khan told The Express Tribune. “The defeat is disappointing as Pakistan had defeated Ireland 2-1 in a warm-up match.”
Samiullah felt that the team management and senior players were to blame for the defeat that knocked Pakistan out of the road to Rio.
“Missing so many chances is a result of poor coordination among the players. Individual skills were good but the coordination was really poor,” he said. “After missing out on the World Cup, this is another big shame for Pakistan.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2015.
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