JAKARTA: A heart-breaking 3-2 loss to Japan was made even worse for Pakistan when India put 16 goals past Indonesia on Thursday to not only put the arch-rivals out of the Super 4s stage at the Asia Cup but also crush their hopes of making it to next year’s World Cup.
Pakistan went into their final Group ‘A’ match here at the GBK Sports Arena knowing that a draw would take them through to the last-four stage alongside Japan regardless of India’s result in their match against Indonesia. That would’ve kept them in contention for a place in the World Cup with the top three teams at the tournament qualifying for the tournament in India.
They almost secured a dramatic draw but captain Umar Bhutta’s goal in the final quarter, with Japan leading 3-2 at that stage, was chalked off after a video referral. In the third quarter, another effort by Junaid Manzoor was disallowed. But it was a valiant effort nonetheless by Pakistan, who came back from 2-0 down to make it 2-1 and pulled another goal back after Japan had led 3-1.
“The boys really gave all their heart,” Umar said after the match. “We really wanted to make it to the semi-finals but the two goals that were disallowed really hurt our chances and we also ended up getting many cards that didn’t help our chances.”
Pakistan, though, were still in the mix for the semis by that time with India needing to win by 15 goals against Indonesia to pip Umar’s men to second spot in the pool on goal difference behind the perfect Japanese. The Indians went better, thrashing the hapless hosts 16-0 to add salt to Pakistan’s fresh wounds.
The defending champions rode on splendid show from Dipsan Tirkey, who hammered five goals, and Sudev Belimagga, who sounded the board thrice. Veteran SV Sunil, Pawan Rajbhar and Karthi Selvam scored a brace each while Uttam Singh and Nilam Sanjeep Xess scored a goal each.
Joining Japan and India in the semi-finals were Malaysia and South Korea, who advanced unbeaten from Pool ‘B’ on Thursday. Malaysia thumped Bangladesh 8-1 to finish top of the table while the Koreans defeated Oman 5-1.
It was the Pakistan-Japan clash, though, which took top billing on the final day of the group stage.
Japan made a positive start with two back-to-back goals in the 14th and 15th minute through Ryoma Ooka and Ikumi Saeki but Pakistan shook off the early nerves to score in the 23rd minute through Ijaz Ahmed’s scintillating field goal.
Takuma Niwa restored Japan’s two-goal advantage after a penalty corner conversion in the 27th but Mubashar Ali hit back again with a drag-flick three minutes later.
With Pakistan pushing for the leveller, they started looking for striking space in the circle after half-time. One such strike by Junaid found the cage in the 40th but that goal was disallowed as Pakistan had 12 players on the pitch and saw Umar receiving a yellow card that saw the skipper sit out the next 10 minutes.
Umar, however, came on and found the back of the net only for it to be ruled out on a technical four after Japan took a video referral. Pakistan were crestfallen and then India added to their misery.
Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2022