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Pakistan reach Nations Cup hockey semis


KARACHI:

Pakistan and France joined New Zealand in the semi-finals of the FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup in Gniezno, Poland after playing out a 11-goal thriller.  

Pool B saw France finish first, followed by Pakistan. Malaysia finished third after defeating Canada in the first game of the day. 

France topped Pool B with a third straight win, beating Pakistan 5-6 in a nail-biter.

The Olympic hosts turned on the heat from the word go and came prepared to exploit the weaknesses in Pakistan’s backline. It was Victor Charlet who broke the deadlock in the seventh minute.

With a minute to go for the first quarter, Eliot Curty found Blaise Rogeau, who sent a rocket that bounced off the bar for their second. There was no coordination at the back as Gaspard Baumgarten made it 0-3 with seven minutes to go in the first half. Two minutes later, Charlet got his second through another penalty corner. 

For all their defensive frailties, Pakistan has been one of the most exciting teams to watch while attacking. One such attempt in the 26th minute led to a penalty stroke that was converted with ease by Abu Mahmood.

Suddenly, the French were not as organised as they were before, allowing Pakistan to get under their skin. A penalty corner in the 29th minute saw Sufyan Khan’s initial shot saved only for Murtaza Yaqoob to score the rebound.

The third quarter was all France again as Charlet delivered from the penalty corner yet again with an emphatic finish for his hat-trick in the 39th minute. Pakistan responded in the first minute of the final quarter thanks to Ashraf Rana Waheed who finished a superb ball from Amad Butt, who found him from a long way out. Pakistan continued to threaten Les Bleus and Butt was sensational in the build-up for the fourth, as Rehman Abdul made it 4-5 in the 52nd minute. 

Pakistan were all over France and a penalty corner in the 56th minute made it 5-5 as Hannan Shahid reacted quickly after Mahmood’s initial shot was saved. Everyone believed the comeback was complete, but Pakistan switched off and Charlet, who started the scoring, finished it with another penalty corner. 

Victor Charlet of France was full of praise for Pakistan after winning the match and said: “It’s hard to describe this game – lots of goals.

Against a huge hockey nation like Pakistan, you have to be good as they have many great players. You have to be focused and defend well as they are skilful. It’s not our best game but we are happy with the win.”

Pakistan hockey team has displayed a fabulous game during the past two months and have shown clear signs of a revival which has enthralled the fans all over.

Earlier last month Pakistan cruised to the final of the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, enjoying an unbeaten run that drew accolades forn the fans and critics alike.

In the final, Pakistan held Japan 2-2 after nail biting contest but unfortunately fell short in the penalty shoot out to lose 1-4.

The national team’s Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans deserve high praise indeed for instilling great spirit among the Pakistan players and for honing their skills and stamina in such a short period.

It is a welcome sign, too, that the Pakistan govt have also come forward to encourage the team for its show in Azlan Shah Cup last month. In a fine gesture, PM Shehbaz Sharif distributed rupees one million each among the players last month and that has surely proved to be a great incentive for them.

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