1994: We had a good chance...

A first person account of the 1994 hockey World Cup.

Published : Nov 23, 2018 19:12 IST

A jubilant Pakistan team celebrates with the World Cup in Sydney after defeating the Netherlands 5-4 in the final.
A jubilant Pakistan team celebrates with the World Cup in Sydney after defeating the Netherlands 5-4 in the final.

A jubilant Pakistan team celebrates with the World Cup in Sydney after defeating the Netherlands 5-4 in the final.

The intensity of the preparations was perhaps symbolic of the wonderful combination we were set to field. When I look back now, I have reason to believe we had the best chance to enter at least the last-four stage under the stewardship of Cedric D’Souza. The team was a blend of youth and experience and the team spirit was really good during my playing days.

But when we landed in Sydney, we had our first problem. Inside-right Sabu Varkey seemed out of sorts for some reason. That was a major setback. Personally, I missed him a lot.

For the record, we defeated Korea 2-0, lost to the Netherlands 2-4, drew 2-2 with South Africa and lost to Germany 1-2 before finally beating Belgium 4-2 to take the third spot in the group table. In the classification matches, we defeated Argentina 6-3 via a tie-breaker and England 1-0 to secure fifth place.

HYDERABAD, 12/03/2011: Olympian and former Indian hockey player Nandanoori Mukesh Kumar, campaigners during Say No To Plastic at KBR Park in Hyderabad on Saturday, organised by The Hindu Young World. -----PHOTO:NAGARA GOPAL

What haunts me even today is the serious lapse by Shakeel Ahmed. India was leading 1-0 against Germany. Shakeel gave a long pass from near the half-line, which was duly intercepted and converted into a fine goal by the Germans to level the scores. That allowed the domination to shift the other way. It is a pity that despite really playing well, we lost that match. 

It was terribly disappointing to finish fifth given the fact that never before in any World Cup, during my playing days, did any Indian team enter the event with such preparedness.

As for the championship, the fans could not have asked for a better contest than a Pakistan-Netherlands final. It was a battle between classical and modern hockey. And the performance of the great Shahbaz Ahmed was unforgettable. Not surprisingly, he was the ‘player of the tournament’. But an incident from the semifinal was what I cherish most.

Shahbaz snatched a stray ball near the half-line and dodged his way past the German defence to score a splendid goal. Pakistan won the match 6-4. It was the best goal I had seen in a long time. 

The beauty of that effort was evident in the way he intelligently placed the ball in the open space only to confuse the rivals and quickly take back control with his speed and grace.

That he came up with such a display after he had pulled a hamstring earlier in the tournament was a tribute to his fighting spirit and commitment. It was a classic case of leading from the front by Pakistan’s captain Shahbaz. 

It was a fitting finale when Pakistan emerged the winner 5-4 via a tie-breaker against the Netherlands after the teams were locked one-all at the end of regulation time.

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