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 quarterfinal match against Germany at the Champions Trophy on Thursday.
Pakistan’s worst-ever loss in Olympic history came at the hands of Australia in London this year. A 7-0 score-line spoke of the domination of the Kookaburras and depths to which the once-mighty Greenshirts had plunged to.
Three months after that humiliation, Pakistan sprung back to some sort of respectability against the same opponents.
Even though Muhammad Imran’s men lost the Champions Trophy match against hosts Australia (1-0), the spirit with which they held on to their ranks was indeed praiseworthy.
The defensive line was great; Muhammad Imran led from the front and probably had one of his best games. He read the situation very well and his positioning was simply outstanding.
Pakistan stretched the field with two high strikers which gave an open-goal shot to Haseem Khan just eight minutes into the match. Khan, unfortunately, hit it wide and it is a lesson for all that when playing such a high-quality opponent you have to make use of each opportunity, let alone something as open as this.
Against the pressure of Australia, Pakistani defence used the depth of the field and did not make any forced passes. They kept it simple and kept moving the ball to the back and waited for the right moment or gap to pass the ball up front. The confidence with which they did this was the reason why they only conceded a single goal, that too off a penalty corner.
While attacking, the Greenshirts followed the same script. Nothing was forced. The attackers helped out the defence and only when there was an opportunity to break through, did they accelerate with good support from the midfield.
Pakistan were very good up to the 23-metre-line of Australia when attacking but after that it was unnecessary, blind shooting in the circle. Naturally, it was easy for Australia to defend.
Short passes and a combination of one-to-one passes should have been used to break the Australian wall. Pakistan must create penalty corners in the upcoming games if field goals seem hard to come by.
The Kookaburras had to win the game by two goals to top their pool but Pakistani defence and goalkeeper Imran Butt combined to thwart any such plans.
Butt was very impressive in the game. He was not busy in first half but in second half there was a lot to do for him. It was clear that he was ready for it and made two great saves other wise the score-line would have been completely different.
Waseem Ahmed will have make his presence felt a little bit more in the midfield and in the back as well as he can really help the team in big matches with his experience.
No room for slip-ups against German machine
Pakistan lost two matches out of three and finished third in pool B. The format of the tournament allows every team to play the quarterfinal and from there they will rise or fall.
So the real Champions Trophy starts now.
Pakistan will be playing against world number one Germany in the first quarterfinal of Champions Trophy after which the winner will qualify for the semi-final and the loser will have to fight for 5-8 position. The German side has retained only three players from the Olympic squad and wears a very young look.
Germany have always been very strong, especially from the mental aspect of the game. They do not get deterred easily. They play a man-to-man game and it’s not easy to outdo them because of this tactical ploy. The London Olympics gold medallists are known for their defence and Pakistan will have to come to them rather than the other way around.
In midfield, their main player is Mortiz Fuerst (captain) and the Greenshirts will have to mark him and keep him out of the game. Germany also have one the best build ups in the world so Pakistan will have to keep pressure at all times and not try static press.
They love to attack from the right side and also do lot of overlapping which Pakistan should be wary of.
Pakistan’s forward line will have to show a lot of movement as Germany will not give any easy runs. Haseem Khan, Waqas Shareef, Omer Bhutta, Rizwan Senior and Shakeel Abbasi will have to attack as a group and should not try to beat the Germans individually.
They should attack with a guard behind, which will help them more to build their offence.
Players to watch
Muhammad Imran, Waseem Ahmed and Shakeel Abbasi