Salman Akbar is a veteran hockey 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 previews Pakistan’s crucial third match against Australia at the Champions Trophy on Tuesday.
Overcoming Belgian resistance
Pakistan set the pace by keeping the pressure on a resilient Belgium side and constantly looked to move forward. The 2-0 win was a well deserved won but the margin in the end could have been bigger.
It was a positive sign to have not conceded a goal and was evidence of the fact that Pakistan remained tight in defense and always in position even after their counter attacks. Some solid early saves from Imran Butt kept the Greenshirts in the game.
Another great attribute on display against the Belgians was the confidence of the backline even in the face of sustained pressure from the opponents. In almost all instances the attacks were broken by short passes by the Pakistani defenders, the captain Muhammad Imran playing a pivotal role. Movement in the midfield helped for a good build up in and the flanks provided great attacking support, keeping the opposition on their toes.
Penalty corner shortage
Pakistan did not earn even a single penalty corner against Belgium which is a worrying sign. In the coming matches the Greenshirts will face better organised defensive teams and PCs could provide for the only goal-scoring opportunities.
Pakistan scored the first goal in 55th minute and it came from a great run by Shakeel Abbasi who assisted Haseem Khan in the eventual goal. Four minutes before full-time, Belgium took out their goalkeeper and increased the number of the players in an attempt to level the score. But again Pakistan’s defense showed character. Shafqat Rasool scored the second goal in the 69th minute facing an open goal to give the Greenshirts their first 3 points of the Champions Trophy.
The game between world number two Australia and the third-ranked Netherlands ended in a 0-0 draw after a high velocity game. The dizzying pace of the game and great goal-keeping from the Dutch keeper were some of the impressive features of the match. It was also something for the Pakistani management to learn from.
Pakistan must be ready to face high-speed hockey from Australia, there style of play revolving around explosive restarts and counters. Pakistan cannot afford to be defensive all the time, however, and the simple solution will be to choose the right moments accelerate when attacking.
The midfield will play a key role in Pakistan’s chances. Ideally, Abbasi should be used in the middle as he is one who can make the plays, provide incisive passes in front and accelerate up and down the pitch.
Pakistan should start the game with an extra man in midfield and Abbasi is best for this job.
Ball possession key
Pakistan cannot afford to be complacent after beating Belgium as Australia is a completely different beast all together. They should have learned from the 7-0 drubbing that the Australian’s handed to them at the 2012 London Olympics.
The Kookaburras will look to create penalty corners and are extremely efficient with the use of indirect variations. Losing the ball in their own half will create a lot of trouble for Pakistan and Imran’s men should try to keep maximum ball possession.
Pakistan should start with half court press and should not allow Aussies easy runs in the midfield. Each and every player will have to give his best but should not try to change the game individually.
For the coaches, they will have to be in the game as well and should use rolling substitutions to give proper rest to every player as it will no doubt be a very physical game.
Imran Butt should expect a barrage but should be confident as he is doing good job so far under the bars.
Players to watch
Imran Butt, Rashid Mehmood and Haseem Khan