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MARKED improvement was visible in Pakistan hockey team’s performance at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games which ended on Sunday. Though the team ended up seventh in the 10-nation contest, the noticeable point was that they didn’t lose any game.

Placed in pool ‘B’, world No.13 Pakistan drew all the four pool matches to better as well as mediocre outfits while their only victory came in the classification match for the 7th-8th position when they breezed past 11th ranked Canada 3-1.

Interestingly, in three of the total five matches they played on Gold Coast the greenshirts first conceded goals before making comeback to draw level.

With lack of international exposure and match temperament, Pakistan held 24th ranked Wales to a 1-1 draw in their opening game. Fullback Mubashir Ali scored the equaliser by converting a penalty corner in the 39th minute after Rupert Shipperley had forged his team ahead through a field goal in the 33rd minute.

Next came the clash between former world giants, India and Pakistan, which ended in a thrilling 2-2 stalemate thanks to goals from Irfan Junior (39th) and Mubashir Ali who scored on penalty corner in the last minute of the match. Earlier, Dilpreet Singh and Hamanpreet Singh had scored back-to-back goals for India in seven minutes. India are presently ranked sixth in the world.

The draw against India came as a refreshing change for Pakistan after the greenshirts suffered four successive defeats to the arch-rivals — 1-7 and 1-6 in the World Hockey League and 1-3 and 0-4 in the Dhaka Asia Cup last year.

The draw trend continued when Pakistan shared points with world No.7 England as the clash ended in a 2-2 draw. Arsalan Qadir (33rd) and Mubashir Ali (57th) slammed goals for Pakistan as Mark Gleghorine drew level (1-1) for England in 34th minute while Sam Ward consolidated the lead in the 51st. Both the England goals came off penalty corners.

Pakistan rounded off the league matches in the same fashion after being engaged in a 1-1 draw against one rank better Malaysia. Shafqat Rasool broke the ice in ninth minute while Ramadan Rosli slammed home the equaliser (39th).

Pakistan ended up fourth ahead of minnows Wales in pool ‘B’ as India topped with 10 points from three wins and a draw. They were followed by England and Malaysia.

Australia, meanwhile, emerged pool ‘A’ champions followed by New Zealand, Scotland, Canada and South Africa.

Arsalan Qadir (34th), Mubashir Ali (40th) and Irfan Jr (57th) struck a goal apiece for the greenshirts after Canada shocked by forging ahead in the 12th minute through James Kirkpatrick in the classification match.

It is pertinent to mention that Canada had crushed Pakistan 6-0 in the World Hockey League last year.

Overall, the greenshirts netted nine goals at the Commonwealth Games, including four off penalty corners by Mubashir while they conceded seven.

After taking a glance at Pakistan’s results one finds some positives including finding a dependable penalty corner striker in Mubashir and the spirit of fightback till the last minute after conceding lead.

Though it’s hard for a Pakistan hockey fan to swallow the bitter pills of drawing against the likes of Wales and Malaysia, one at the same time has to keep in mind the ground reality that our hockey is in the formative stage and will take some time and international exposure to regain the pride.

The greenshirts had undergone a couple of strenuous training sessions under the Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans who took over the reins last month.

Three more major international events — Champions Trophy, Asian Games and World Cup — await Pakistan during the next eight months.

The 37th and last edition of the Champions Trophy takes place at Breda, Holland, from June 23 to July 1 where six teams will be up against each other in one of the toughest events of the FIH calendar. The teams include Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Holland, Pakistan and India.

The FIH has awarded special entry to Pakistan in the last Champions Trophy. Pakistan, the three-time former champions, had founded the event some four decades ago at Lahore, The last time greenshirts reached the Champions Trophy podium was at Bhubaneswar, India, in 2014.

The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) is attaching great importance to the 18th Asian Games being held in Jakarta from Aug 18 to Sept 2 as the winning team will earn direct ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Pakistan, the former four-time World Cup winners, who failed to qualify for the last men’s hockey World Cup held at The Hague, will try to make their presence felt in the 2018 edition being staged in the Indian city of Bhubaneswar from Nov 28 to Dec 16.

This time the FIH has raised the number of World Cup teams from 12 to 16 and are drawn in four groups which are as follows.

Pool ‘A’: Argentina, New Zealand, Spain, France

Pool ‘B’: Australia, England, Ireland, China

Pool ‘C’: Belgium, India, Canada, South Africa

Pool ‘D’: Netherlands, Germany, Malaysia, Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2018