HOCKEY: STORM IN A WORLD CUP

Published October 24, 2021
Pakistan’s fullback Akhtarul Islam scores the only goal of the final against Spain in the inaugural 1971 World Cup
Pakistan’s fullback Akhtarul Islam scores the only goal of the final against Spain in the inaugural 1971 World Cup

Today is a historic day. Fifty years ago, on October 24, 1971, the final match at the inaugural edition of the Hockey World Cup was played in Barcelona, Spain, and Pakistan emerged as the first team to lift the cup. Last year, we also celebrated 60 years of Pakistan’s maiden Olympic gold medal in hockey, won in Rome in 1960. With how far behind Pakistan has fallen in its national sport, looking back at these past victories is bittersweet.

As a respected contender in hockey back in the day, Pakistan was a prominent part of international conversations surrounding the sport. In fact, the idea of hosting a World Cup was floated by Pakistan, after the country regained hockey gold at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The Olympics in those days was looked at strictly as an amateur event. The tournament had no room for professional sports persons. And, indeed, the sponsorship that we are used to seeing at the Olympics today was also lacking back then.

All this made holding the Olympics a very costly affair for host countries. And some were suggesting dropping certain team sports from the Olympics to make the event more affordable.

That was when the great sports visionary (late) Air Marshal Nur Khan, then the president of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), suggested to the world hockey body, the Fédération Internationale de Hockey (FIH), to have a World Cup for hockey. Khan believed that the step would lead to increased interest in the game. Besides, one quadrennial global tournament at the Olympics was not sufficient.

Apprehensive about the expenses involved, the FIH was initially reluctant but eventually agreed. Khan’s offer to host the inaugural edition in Lahore, Pakistan was accepted too. And Pakistan also donated the magnificent World Cup trophy, made of gold, silver, ivory and teak wood.

But, unfortunately, Pakistan could not host the inaugural event that year. The general elections in the country left the political atmosphere quite tense. The event, therefore, had to be shifted to the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Terrassa.

Fifty years to the day, Pakistan brought home the inaugural Hockey World Cup from Spain. Eos journeys back to the exhilarating tournament

A TOURNAMENT TO REMEMBER

Pakistan had already emerged victorious at the Olympics and the Asian Games, and they were the favourites for the World Cup too. Most of Pakistan’s 1968 Olympics team stars were also part of the World Cup squad. But there was also some fresh blood. Just before the World Cup, the team suffered a setback when the legendary right-half Saeed Anwar became unfit. He had to be replaced by novice Arshad Chaudhry.

Still, the Green Shirts began the World Cup with a bang, drubbing the 1968 Olympics silver medalist Australia 5-2, with fullback Tanvir Dar slamming the first hat-trick of the World Cup off penalty corners.

In the next game, Japanese goalkeeper Satokazu Otsuka blunted the great Dar. A total of 10 penalty corners came in Pakistan’s way, but Dar could convert only one as the team managed a 1-0 win.

Against the Netherlands, the Dutch goalie was unable to pull off an Otsuka. Dar got his second hat-trick. But the Netherlands, with the last goal of the match, turned the game into a 3-3 draw.

In their last pool match, Pakistan faced hosts Spain in a jam-packed stadium. The crowd went wild as the home side went two goals ahead. But Pakistan made a fine comeback and drew level. Two minutes before the final whistle, Spain were awarded a penalty corner which was hotly contested by Pakistan. Spanish skipper Juan Amat scored the match-winner off it. Pakistan’s official protest against the penalty corner award was dismissed and the accompanying deposit of 200 Swiss Francs forfeited.

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan had never been out of the last four in any title tournament. The record was in danger of being broken. It all depended on the Netherlands-Japan tie. A Dutch victory — expected by everyone — would send Pakistan back home. A draw would mean that they would have to wait for the result of the Spain-Australia match. Even then Pakistan had to figure in a playoff. The team management had started making travel arrangements for their return journey while the players began packing their bags.

Back on the field, the Dutch thoroughly dominated and earned as many as 19 penalty corners. Japan’s custodian Otsuka had the game of his life under the bar. Coupled with thunderous dashes from the defenders, he didn’t let the Netherlands avail a single penalty corner. It was Japan who scored the only goal of the match, ironically off a penalty corner. Miracles do happen.

Pakistan was still in the game.

THE FINAL STRETCH

For the semi-finals, the show shifted from Barcelona to the nearby hockey-mad town of Terrassa, arguably the world’s biggest hockey nursery. There, the fan following of hockey players was no less than that of soccer stars.

Pakistan met traditional rivals India in the semi-final. The match had all the excitement and drama associated with India-Pakistan matches of that era. India’s centre-forward Rajinder Singh made it 1-0. At halftime, Dar’s long scope was not trapped properly by the opponents’ defender. Great poacher Abdul Rasheed Jr darted to push the ball into the net in the blink of an eye. Dar, the goal provider, jumped to celebrate but dislocated his knee in the process. This was a great setback as the penalty corner king had scored eight of Pakistan’s 11 goals in the pool games.

The other regular fullback Akhtarul Islam was already not on the field as he had been banned for two matches for a foul in the game against the Netherlands. His replacement, 19-year-old Munawwaruz Zaman, had been manning the left fullback’s position.

Thankfully, this 1971 Pakistan World Cup team was lucky to have all-rounder Jahangir Butt. Butt had the amazing ability to play in any position. Originally a left-out, Butt had been playing as right half in the tourney almost from the start in place of Saeed Anwar’s replacement Arshad Chaudhry.

Dar’s exit and Islam’s absence forced the team management to shift Butt to the right fullback position. When Pakistan got a penalty corner in the second half, team captain Khalid Mahmood had to signal Zaman, who was appearing in only his second international. Scoring the match-winner in the World Cup semi-final against Pakistan’s arch-rivals, off his first-ever penalty corner strike, propelled Zaman into Pakistan’s sporting folklore. He went on to have an illustrious international career. He is widely regarded as his country’s all-time great left fullback.

For the final on October 24, it was back to Barcelona’s Real Club de Polo. Pakistan faced Spain again, who had beaten the team in the pool match and were enjoying all the support of their sizable home crowd.

Pakistan’s woes continued. Vice-Captain Asad Malik was unfit for the final. Another future great Islahuddin Siddiqui, a reserve forward, had to play at the unaccustomed left-in position, perhaps for the only time in his long career. Akhtarul Islam was back after serving the two-match ban and the over six-foot-tall fullback carved his name in history by scoring the only goal of the first World Cup final, off a penalty corner in the last minutes of the first half.

Thus Pakistan completed the grand slam of hockey, so to say. They were World, Olympic and Asian Champions.

The World XI, announced after this victory, included three Pakistanis: left-half Fazalur Rahman, left-in Asad Malik and the young left-out Shahnaz Sheikh. The goalkeeper in that team was Japan’s Otsuka, who was also named the ‘Player of the Tournament’.

Pakistan went on to win four of the first eight editions of the World Cup. The record has not been equaled so far.

The writer is a freelance sports journalist based in Lahore. He tweets @ijazChaudhry1 and can be reached at ijaz62@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 24th, 2021

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