Pakistan were unable to hold on to the ball for longer periods and gave away possession very easily. -Photo by Reuters

Salman Akbar is a veteran goal-keeper who made his debut for Pakistan’s hockey team in 2001. Termed by Olympian Shahid Ali Khan as one of the most hard-working players in the game, Akbar has won the 2005 Rabo Trophy and the 2010 Asian Games gold medal with Pakistan. He was adjudged the ‘best keeper’ in both events. Here, he talks about Pakistan's performance against Argentina and previews the next match against hosts Great Britain which will be played on Friday at 20:00 (PST). 

Great team work and a well-deserved victory for Pakistan over Argentina.

Although Pakistan started the game on a slow pace, they gradually managed to speed it up and were rewarded in the 30th minute with an angular drag-flick from Muhammad Imran after winning their first penalty corner.

Once again, the performance from the midfield was commendable. Young players like Rizwan Junior and Muhammad Rashid played an excellent game. It was great to see rookie Rizwan taking the attack to the opponents without any fear and with some great skills. Rashid was equally solid on the left side.

It was heartening to see the players get together in numbers every time they had to defend. Umar Bhutta, especially, worked really hard at the back, which was a great sign for the team.

Possession is key

Pakistan were unable to hold on to the ball for longer periods and gave away possession very easily. They seemed to struggle in creating build-ups and for me, this was a worrying sign. Another area of concern was a complete lack of field-goal attempts, not even half-chances. While it was good that the Greenshirts created four penalty corners, the strikers still have to do their job of making serious goal-attempts in the remaining matches.

There is an urgent need to show more aggression while putting pressure on the ball-carriers and the players need to communicate better while defending. Imran Shah managed to make some easy, but important saves and this performance will do his confidence a world of good. Pakistan’s 50 per cent conversion rate from penalty corners is a big improvement from the previous performances and I credit our defence and penalty-corner attempts with getting the team all three points in this must-win game. An empty goals-against column is an apt depiction of the quality of our defence.

Do or Die

Rehan Butt has termed tomorrow’s match a “do-or-die encounter” for Pakistan and he is not wrong. Great Britain are ranked fourth in the world and while their Olympic berth was secured on the basis of hosting the event, they have come out as strong contenders for the podium by finishing third in the European Championship, where they beat Belgium in the bronze-medal game.

Expect a physical game

Great Britain have played on the new blue turf more than any other team at London 2012 and it is bound to have helped their preparations for the big showdown. Apart from that, they also hold an advantage of playing at home and having an unmatched crowd support. Here, I would like to add that it was nice to see a good number of Pakistani fans and flags in the match against Argentina. Going back to the hosts, they have now been playing under the same coach for almost five years. Still, they faced mixed results in the run up to the Games. They finished fourth at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and ended last year’s Champion’s Trophy at the same position. Nevertheless, I expect them to be fully prepared to give Pakistan a tough challenge tomorrow.

Players like Barry Middleton, Ashley Jackson, James Tindal and Jonathan Clarke are top quality and form the core of their team. Great Britain like to keep their opponents under constant pressure, with high-speed attacks. A peculiar GB tactic is to smash the ball from the sides in front of the goal to make connections for goal-attempts. In addition to that, they play with a lot of short passes to beat the opponent’s defence and the combination of Middleton and Jackson is key to their attacks. In turn, this means that Pakistan’s defence has to be very alert and to play a more physical game than they usually do. For GB, penalty corners are a key component of attacks. Ashley Jackson is their go-to man for drag-flicks and his favorite angle would be from the left and high of Imran Shah, but they like to vary their attacks on the top of the circle. British players are particularly good on penalty-corner rebounds and Pakistan have to plan well and in great detail to defend penalty corners – something we are already doing quite well. Having drawn against South Africa, Great Britain will count on their fighting spirit and attack Pakistan with full power in this match to get all the three points and Pakistan have to be fully prepared.

First real test

This match will be a tough test for Pakistan and it will highlight their strengths and weaknesses. The Greenshirts will have to do give more than what have been doing so far and show some fighting spirit to get a favourable result. No individual player should try and change the game on his own. Pakistan will have to rely on teamwork and all the boys will have to count on one another.

Pakistan should play with more courage. They need to start the game with half-court press. Putting pressure on the ball-carrier will be a good tactic but we should go for attacks from the side pockets so that Great Britain also have to work hard to get the ball out of the press. Pakistan’s defence is already playing really well with great support from the midfield and strikers, and this practice needs to continue in a more dedicated manner.

In order to improve an already well-knit midfield, we need our strikers to show moments of inspiration to create gaps and then come out of with a full-press on the opponents. Pakistan should avoid giving away penalty corners as Great Britain are always on the lookout for chances to create PCs.

Goal-keeper Imran Shah's performance may eventually dictate the result for Pakistan and the 23-year-old is likely to come out of this battle a much more mature man. Pakistani defenders have to watch the movements of their strikers carefully and should mark the British to the man instead of playing a zonal game.

Triangular attack

Pakistan should once again start with three strikers and maintain a triangular shape to their attack with one man high up and two on the flanks. This will not only help in keeping the pressure up on GBR's defenders when holding possession but also allow the Greenshirts to start their attack from the flanks and move in centrally. GBR defenders are most often than not found guilty of ball-watching and this formation will utilize the space they tend to leave in the back effectively. Pakistan should also try to create plays in the front that create the maximum number of PCs to keep the hosts' defense occupied and weary.

Three midfielders and four defenders will serve well against GBR. Muhammad Imran should be deep in defense and Sohail Abbas should be playing as a right half. Abbas, as I mentioned earlier, could prove extremely useful in that position. Rizwan Junior should be the replacement on the right side. Shakeel Abbasi should be in the starting line up and should be on the pitch for maximum time. He is in the mould of Italian footballer Andrea Pirlo, and can not only hold the ball but also orchestrate plays in addition to making great runs. With him on, Pakistan will be strong in offense and defense. Veteran Waseem Ahmed should lead the midfield as he has been doing consistently so far. Waseem, ideally, should help in building up his replacement now as Pakistan have quite a few guys with 4-5 years of experience under their belts.

Sohail and Mohammad Imran did well in the last match and it will l be great to see them getting on the score-sheet once again. But surprise variations are a must to get the most out of PCs.

Communication will be vital as it will be a high-paced game and Pakistan will need to show great fighting spirit until the last second to ensure a good result against GBR.

Both teams are with the same points on the table so the winner of this match will be very close to get the entry in the half finals.

Players to watch

Shakeel Abbasi, Waseem Ahmed and Rizwan Junior will be the players to watch.

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Comments (20) (Closed)


irfan
Aug 03, 2012 11:13am
Another thing which we need to focus is; the clearance from D. in the second half we might have defended well against argentina but the clearance was very poor which leads to unnecssary pressure.
farooq
Aug 03, 2012 05:34pm
there was a great demand of salman goal keeper. we miss him in the team.
Salman Akbar
Aug 03, 2012 01:50pm
I do agree all you said especially about the jokers. Thanks to Dawn to give me this opportunity. Don't worry we will replace these jokers by showing that we know more than them about modern hockey. Comments of the readers always help me a lot so please keep reading my articles and don't for get to comment :)
Tariq Adnan
Aug 03, 2012 01:53pm
Good Analysis by Salman Akbar. I would add here that although, they won the game against Argentina but the way they played was not very impressive. Yes, their defence was good but their attack was so weak. I agree with the comments of Salman Elahi that we were playing with a defensive frame of mind by turning the ball inside our half most of the times. This approach won't help us in this game or any game for that matter. Anyway, my prayers and best wishes for Pakistan team.
Shafi
Aug 03, 2012 03:32pm
Already 2 goals by UK
Ijaz Mir
Aug 02, 2012 08:41pm
Salmon another great analysis . Due to my location I am unable to watch the game alive, I wait for your expert analysis, comments suggestions and enjoy your writing. Please keep on writing
Ahmed j
Aug 02, 2012 09:23pm
Shakeel Abbasi yet has to show his magic. He was covered in both previous matches and could not make any worthwhile move. Its really treat to watch other young forwards running with the ball with long strides. Hope they improve their control of the ball with that speed. Defense looked well knitted and coordinated especially with Waseem's presence. The team has shown strong character and looks like they are playing for Pakistan only and they are fighters. I hope PHF gets some sense and puts Pakistan's interest first like the 16 players in the field.
Irfan Mir
Aug 02, 2012 11:14pm
nice analysis and a joy to read for hockey lovers and pakistan fans......... keep it up and God bless you!!!
Salman Elahi
Aug 02, 2012 11:21pm
i am not sure I whole heatedly agree on the strategy against GB. Greenshirts repeatedly committed grave errors turning over the ball inside their half, and against a team like Argentina which was low on confidence and lacked attacking fire power this coud be forgiven but GB or any other top team like the Ned, Ger or Aus would have put the game out of our reach in the first half. Greenshirts need to keep the ball in their position in their half and move through midfield with short passes. A playmaker like Abbasi should play the anchor attack role . Abbasi is currently being wasted at the flanks. We could earn a draw and even sneak a win only if the defence works like a unit, keeps the unforced errors and turnovers to a minimum and the attack converts its chances and allows the team to play with a lead, putting pressure back on GB in front of its home crowd.
Iqbal Z khan
Aug 03, 2012 12:41am
Well written. I pray Pakistan wins.
Adnan Zakir
Aug 03, 2012 12:54am
Good one bhai, About GBR GBR will be very dangerous in turn overs and there defenders Wilson and smith are weak in 1 vs 1 defending so Abbasi need more time at the pitch to put pressure on there defenders and make more 25 n circle penetrations, we need to keep eye on Ben Hawes and Middleton both of them involve in fast breaks and both have a very good mutual understanding with Jackson, Fox and Tindal, Jackson is a creative quality player he should be marked all the time, there forwards always utilized baseline and space behind the defenders so our defenders have to avoid Ball watching, they are very good in quick restarts so every time we need a backup in quick restarts situations, James Fair is an experienced GK we need to be very clinical in PC attack they use to do 3,1 and there is always a chance for double snick, Jackson's drag flick haven't that pace but his flick having a deception plus accuracy, Smith flicks are average so we need to avoid PC. Pakistan Playing excellent hockey at the moment, midfielders are playing very good mashah Alla so we no need to worry about the buildup but no cheap turn overs and no need to wait for the situations, GB is 4th rank team so we need to start creating situations now, we are looking in a good shape so we should show composure against GBR. Bhai please correct me if I am wrong somewhere :) And you doing a great job :) there are lot of fake hockey analysts on TV channels which have no knowledge about modern hockey and repeating their childish views and analyzing again and again with different versions, these jokers playing a lead astray role form ages, Pakistani media have to think about these jokers. I salute you bhai and keep it up. God Bless you. Thanks Adnan Zakir
Imran Khateeb
Aug 03, 2012 02:22am
Inshallah team will once again stand by our expectations. May Allah help them all.
Ali
Aug 03, 2012 02:40am
Ijaz, I am watching the games at http://www.ctvolympics.ca/ Good luck!
Ali Khan
Aug 03, 2012 01:43pm
You can watch the match on ctvolympics.ca click on results and schdule and then select field hockey. scroll accross to Pakistan GBR match and select it to watch. You can also watch previous match that have taken place.
Cyrus Howell
Aug 03, 2012 05:21am
The triangular attack was the way the six time Champion Chicago Bulls played NBA Basket ball on offense.
omair
Aug 03, 2012 06:11am
Adnan an excillent analysis and well observed.
Omair
Aug 03, 2012 06:15am
Salman I must say our Goal Keeping was the most weak point that i observed in the first Match and in the second match we didn't retain ball well howerver we won the second Game we need to focus on keeping posession of the ball and try to play game more in the opponents Half. All the best to Pakistan
LIsa
Aug 03, 2012 07:01am
Best of Luck Pakistani team!!!
Kashif
Aug 03, 2012 07:46am
Great Analysis Salman, Good Team work, excellent communication and controlling your nerves at pressure time would be the key to sucess. Good luck Team Pakistan
Adnan Zakir
Aug 03, 2012 08:54am
Thanks mate I