For: Khelo Pakistan and Express Tribune
Pakistan were able to end the drought and win their first FIH medal in 8 years after beating India by a margin of 3-2 in the Champions Trophy Hockey. Last time they won a medal, that too was Bronze, during the Champions Trophy 2004 in Lahore. This was also Pakistan's first medal after the Asian Games 2010, when they were able to secure the gold medal beating Malaysia 2-0 in Guangzhou, China.
Is this victory of any significance. How did we perform throughout the tournament. Who were the standout players. What's in future for Pakistan, are a few things we need to look at.
Yes, this victory is significant. Looking at Pakistan's performance in the Olympic games where they were able to secure the 7th position, this is an improvement. We should keep in mind that all the major teams in the tournament played many young players and almost had second string squads. Still winning bronze in such a high profile tournament will help the Pakistani players and install the belief that they can compete at the top level and win against the top teams.
This victory will for sure improve Pakistan's ranking. According to the new FIH ranking system Pakistan should earn 170 rating points, if these are implemented that will help them jump to the 5th or 6th spot from their current 9th spot. This victory can for sure be the start of revival of Pakistan Hockey if we stop changing the captains and coaches and goal keepers and players in every tournament we play and give these bunch of players and management enough time to improve their skills and gain confidence.
Pakistan performed really well in most of the matches they played. Starting from the first match of the tournament against Netherlands where they were able to take the lead but just couldn't apply enough pressure to score more goals and ended up losing 1-3. Pakistan totally outclassed Belgium, who are higher ranked than Pakistan and won the match 2-0. Last match of the group stage was against World Number One and Olympics champions Australia. Pakistan gave them a really tough time. Had it not been for a controversial decision and penalty corner, Pakistan could have a better result, they ended up losing 0-1.
Thanks to the new format of the tournament where quarter finals were introduced for the first time, Pakistan faced a young, inexperienced but World Champion German side. The first half belonged to the German side and they were leading 1-0. It was the second half where Pakistan played out and out attacking hockey keeping almost 70% of the possession and scoring two goals to win a thrilling match and qualify for the semi final.
Semi Final was against the Netherlands team which was the top team of Pakistan's pool. It was almost a one sided match where Pakistan look as helpless as in the old days. Netherlands, after scoring a goal in the second minute of the match never looked back and won easily by a huge margin of 5-2.
Then came the big match. Pakistan vs India for the bronze medal. For both the Asian teams this match was of extreme importance, India finished last in the Olympics and haven't won a medal for almost 13 years now. Pakistan team also were hungry for a medal in 8 years. Both the teams had won one match each in the recently concluded 4 nation tournament so there wasn't a clear favorite. The match started at the usual brisk pace and India were able to score in the eighth minute. After that it was all Pakistan. Most of the match was played in the Indian half with Pakistan getting ample of chances to score, they did avail some of them and won the match comfortably with a margin of 3-2.
Pakistan played attacking hockey throughout the tournament which was good to see. They created perhaps more chances than any other team, were able to enter the circle comfortably but it was evident they lacked finishing ability. Missing simpler chances, just not being able to manage one last touch, not being able to trick the goal keeper, even when they were able to they missed the target. In the match against Australia during the first half Pakistan had 79% possession against such a top quality side and had 9 shots on goal in the first 25 minutes but still weren't able to score. This is one area Pakistan will have to look and improve.
One must also give credit to the goal keeper Imran Butt who was exceptional most of the times. Even during the Olympic games he was able to make some unbelievable saves but let the easier ones in. This time around his performance was key in Pakistan's success when he was able to save many penalty corners and shots on goals consistently. Haseem Khan and Umar Bhutta are the two youngsters who will be an asset for Pakistan hockey in the coming years.
Pakistan's next challenge is the 2nd Asian Champions Trophy which starts in Doha from the 20th of December. With teams like India, Korea and Malaysia this is not going to be an easy tournament. Pakistan do have some scores to settle as they lost to India in the final of the inaugural tournament on penalty shoot outs. A win here will ensure that champions trophy wasn't a one tournament wonder it will confirm that Pakistan hockey is going in the right direction.