1994 SYDNEY (Nov. 23-Dec. 4)

P. V. SIVAKUMAR

BY MUKESH KUMAR

(Winner: Pakistan; Runner-up: Netherlands; Third place: Australia. India: 5th)

The intensity of the preparations was perhaps symbolic of the wonderful combination we were set to field. When I look back now, after 16 years, 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 never so 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 Netherlands 2-4, drew 2-2 with South Africa, 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 the tie-breaker and England 1-0 to secure the fifth place.

Winning moment... Pakistan goalkeeper Mansoor Ahmed exults after thwarting Floris Bovelander’s (right) attempt in the penalty shoot-out in the final.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

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 far the championship the fans could not have asked for a better contest than a Pakistan-Netherlands final. It was a battle between classicism 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 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 winner 5-4 via the tie-breaker against Netherlands after the teams were locked one-all at the end of regulation time.

(As told to V. V. Subrahmanyam)