Japan shatter Pakistan’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup dream

Japan clinched victory over Pakistan in the final of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2024 in Malaysia through a gripping penalty shootout, following a thrilling 2-2 draw at the conclusion of regular play on Saturday.

The Japanese team, known as the Samurais, triumphed over the green shirts with a scoreline of 4-2 in the shootout.

The tournament took place in Ipoh, Malaysia, serving as the backdrop for the high-stakes clash between Japan and Pakistan.

Japan struck first against Pakistan, capitalising on a defensive lapse to secure an early lead in the opening quarter, courtesy of forward Tanaka Seren’s swift strike from the left wing.

However, Pakistan rallied in the third quarter, turning the tide with two rapid-fire goals to edge ahead. Ahmad Ajaz and Abdul Rehman found the net for the green shirts, shifting the momentum in their favour.

Yet, Japan mounted a late comeback in the fourth quarter, as Matsumoto Kazumasa netted the equaliser in the 47th minute, setting the stage for a dramatic penalty shootout.

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

In the shootout, Japan displayed nerves of steel, converting all four of their penalties, while Pakistan struggled, managing to slot home only one out of three attempts. This decisive shootout propelled Japan to victory, securing their first ever triumph in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

For Pakistan, reaching the final marked a significant milestone, as they made their first appearance in the title match after a hiatus of 13 years.

Earlier, the green shirts held New Zealand to a thrilling 1-1 draw in their last league match on Friday to remain unbeaten in the tournament.

Pakistan remained unbeaten during the round-robin stage of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup with three wins and two draws in five matches. They only dropped points in matches against Japan and New Zealand.

Pakistan’s performance in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup should be a morale booster for the team especially because the team has to feature in the FIH Nations Cup in Gniezno, Poland, from May 31 to June 9 as well. The Nations Cup is important because the winning team will have the opportunity to play in the FIH Hockey Pro League for the 2024-25 season.

More to follow…

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