Players in action during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match between Pakistan and Canada at the Azlan Shah Stadium on Wednesday.—courtesy Malaysian Hockey Confederation
Players in action during the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match between Pakistan and Canada at the Azlan Shah Stadium on Wednesday.—courtesy Malaysian Hockey Confederation

IPOH: Pakistan and Japan won their respective matches on Wed­n­esday to qualify for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final in Ipoh.

Both the teams top the table with 10 points each from four mat­ches. The final will be staged on May 11 at the Azlan Shah Stadium.

Pakistan have registered three wins and a draw while Japan also have the same number of wins plus a draw.

On Wednesday, Pakistan defe­ated Canada 5-4 while Japan beat hosts Malaysia 2-1.

Malaysia and New Zeal­and are placed at third and fourth, respectively, with six points each.

South Korea have registered three points and are at five while Canada with no wins, are at bottom in the six-nation invitational event.

Continuing with their impressive comeback show in the event, Pakistan edged Canada.

The green-shirts, who clawed back from two goals down, to register a well-deserved win, now top the six-nation event with 10 points under their belt and face New Zealand in their last league match scheduled for Friday.

In earlier matches of the ongoing event, Pakistan worked their way back from 1-3 down against Malaysia before winning 5-4, and the same scenario existed against Japan in the 1-1 drawn match.

Sean Davies’ field goal in the fifth minute pushed the Canadians, 19th in the world rankings, ahead of Pakistan, ranked 15.

Forward Harbir Sidhu, with 25 caps under his belt, then added further gloss by scoring the second goal in the 17th minute giving Canada a solid looking 2-0 lead.

But Pakistan, the three-time former Sultan Azlan Shah Cup champions, made a superb comeback with two penalty corner goals within a space of two minutes, leaving Canadian goalkeeper Matthew Sarmento baffled.

Abu Bakr Mahmood struck back-to-back goals for Pakistan in the 28th and 29th minutes.

Arshad Liaquat extended Pakistan’s lead to 3-2 (36th), Ashraf Waheed Rana made it 4-2 (44th) and Ghazanfar Ali nailed the fifth (45th).

Canada’s Sean Davis made a field goal in the 45th minute, and Avijot Butter scored in another field attempt in the 50th that reduced the deficit to 5-4.

Except for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where Pakistan comfortably won 7-1 in a pool match, the record shows the contest betw­een the two nations have always been close. In the last 14 meetings, Pakistan won 10 times, Canada three times that included claiming a 6-0 whitewash victory over the former world champions in the 2017 Hockey World League semi-finals in London, and drawn once.

Pakistan head coach Roelant Oltmans praised Canada.

“Let us give credit to Canada. They played a good game and gave us a hard time today. We were only able to come back in the second quarter after being 2-0 down. Although we led 5-3, the pressure was still on us. And we had so many chances to score and even had 11 penalty corners,” the Dutch coach said after the match.

“At this moment we have not thought of the last pool match against New Zealand on Friday,” he added.

Patrick Tshutshani, the Canadian coach, said the dedicated performance shown by his players delighted him.

“I thought we started pretty well and were fortunate to get some good moments. It was a tough competition in the second and fourth quarters, as we came under a lot of pressure too, but I am happy with the commitment given by the players,” Tshutshani said in his post-match comments.

“It was a good score, but it could have been a little different and in our favour, if the players had kept the game in control and not lose focus against Pakistan. We play Japan on Friday and I hope the team plays as well as they did today.”

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

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