A shot in the arm for Pakistan

The Pakistan team with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup after it beat Germany 1-0 in the final at Ipoh.-

VICTORY for Pakistan in the Azlan Shah hockey tournament at Ipoh last month was not only a shot in the arm for the team struggling to re-establish its identity but also underscored the mood of well being for the game in the sub-continent.

VICTORY for Pakistan in the Azlan Shah hockey tournament at Ipoh last month was not only a shot in the arm for the team struggling to re-establish its identity but also underscored the mood of well being for the game in the sub-continent. Finishing the last Busan Asian Games without a medal for the first time since 1958, Pakistan had to do a lot of introspection and the administration, not surprisingly, came under an intense period of media inquisition.

And when Pakistan recorded a 1-0 win against the world champion, Germany, in the final on March 30, there was spontaneous approbation from the Pakistani supporters for the outcome. Small wonder, the members of the Pakistani administration gave a red carpet welcome for the team trained by Sheikh Shahnaz.

Reeling under the adverse impact of the pull out in the eleventh hour by India, causing a lot of problems to the host, which had to reschedule the fixtures, the Malaysians had a traumatic experience of finishing the tournament without a single win and not figuring on the board for a placing at all. True, the withdrawal by India citing the ill treatment of IT professionals earlier as a security threat resulted in immense disappointment for a large number of enthusiasts in and around Ipoh.

Importantly, the tournament came into focus largely on account of the experimental rules related to penalty corners and restricting the number of behind the 25-yard line to eight. It is a different matter that the three-man rule invoked criticism from the coaches.

While the defending champion, Germany and South Korea presented new look teams — Germany had nine new faces and South Korea six — Pakistan had a very seasoned squad under Mohammad Nadeem. A thunderous 6-1 win against New Zealand set Pakistan on course. In doing so, the team obliterated the humiliation of the 7-1 defeat sustained against the Kiwis at the last Commonwealth Games. A narrow win over Korea and a comfortable 3-1 verdict against Malaysia did not completely take away the odium of a 3-4 defeat against Germany. This tie was considered as the best among the matches played in the tournament.

But the team reversed the result in the final, thanks to a superb goal by Shabbir Hussain, eight minutes before the blower to regain the handsome cup last won in 2000. Kashif Jawad and Shabbir Hussain in the frontline, Mohammad Wasim in the midfield and the veteran Sohail Abbas dominated the field for Pakistan. Sohail, as always, proved lethal in penalty corner conversion and picked up the trophy for the Best Player of the tournament.

Coach Bernhard Peters, no doubt, was the most disappointed man after Germany slumped in the final. A sweep of the opposition in the league phase, winning all the four matches with admirable measure of assurance, Germany was far too pedestrian in the match that counted the most. The hard work of Max Landshut, Sascha Reinalt, Christoph Zeller or Christoph Bechmann, could not change the course for the formidable Germans. A lapse in concentration in the closing minutes left Clemens Arnold the victim of a neat shot by Shabbir Hussain.

Any assessment of New Zealand as the weak-link replacement to Australia, which did not accept the entry stating that the tournament clashed with its NHL, proved misplaced. In fact, it was the Kiwis who made the waves in this tournament showing yet again they are a bunch of fighters worthy of a silver medal at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. The Kiwis shocked Malaysia 4-2 and then overcame the stiff challenge from Korea to take the third spot beating the same outfit for the second time. Haydan Shaw and Philip Burrows were outstanding for the Kiwis, but one cannot ignore the strength that Bevan Hari put into the attack.

Gold medallist at the last Asiad in Busan, South Korea experimented with as many as six new players. The focus was on building the team for the Olympics more than on winning the trophy. In the absence of the seasoned stars such as Song Seong Tae, Kang Keon Wook and Yeo Woon Koon, the Koreans, led by Jong Jong Hyun, appeared quick enough in the attack to trouble even the established teams such as Pakistan and Germany.

For the Malaysians, the tournament was a disaster. Without a point and losing every encounter, they disappointed the local supporters and also their coach, Paul Lissek. Commentators pointed out the total lack of fitness of the squad, which had experienced players such as Kuhen Shanmuganathan, Gopinath, Kalikavandan and Nor Azlan. Only Azlan Misron, Mohammad Nasir and Noorzlan Rahim managed to attract some attention.

After the euphoria of taking a bronze against Pakistan at Busan, the start of 2003 has not been very encouraging. The sooner the Malaysians come out of this mood of depression, the better it will be for the team in further events leading to the Olympic qualifier at Madrid in 2004.

Facts and figures

SO far 14 countries have participated in the Azlan Shah tournament. Among them only five have won the trophy. Australia (1983, '96, '98), India (1985, '91, '95) and Pakistan (1999, 2000, 2003) have won thrice while Germany (1987, 2001) has lifted the trophy twice. England was winner in the 1994 edition played at Penang. Besides Penang, the tournament has been played in Kuala Lumpur for four times and at Ipoh on seven occasions.

In the 12th edition only five teams participated, India pulling out three days before following a Government directive.

The teams were Germany (GER), Pakistan (PAK), South Korea (KOR), New Zealand (NZ) and Malaysia (MAS).

The results:

GER bt PAK 4-3; bt NZ 3-2; bt KOR 2-0; bt MAS 2-1, PAK bt NZ 6-1; bt KOR 1-0; bt MAS 3-1; NZ bt KOR 3-2; bt MAS 4-2, KOR bt MAS 2-0.

P W D L GF GA Pts GER 4 4 _ _ 11 6 12 PAK 4 3 _ 1 13 6 9 NZ 4 2 _ 2 10 13 6 KOR 4 1 _ 3 4 6 3 MAS 4 _ _ 4 4 11 0 Third place: New Zealand beat Korea 3-2. Final: Pakistan beat Germany 1-0. Best Player of the Tournament: Sohail Abbas. Compiled by B. G. Joshi