Pakistan left to rue missed chances after losing Azlan Shah Cup final in shootout

Published May 12, 2024
IPOH: Players of Japan and Pakistan in action during the Azlan Shah Cup final on Saturday.—courtesy Malaysian Hockey Confederation
IPOH: Players of Japan and Pakistan in action during the Azlan Shah Cup final on Saturday.—courtesy Malaysian Hockey Confederation

IPOH: Pakistan were left ruing their missed opportunities after Japan came from behind and eventually floored them in a penalty shootout to deny them a first Sultan Azlan Shah Cup title since 2003.

Japan had taken an early lead but Roelant Oltmans’ side came back strongly with two goals in the space of three minutes, only to relinquish their advantage before falling apart in the shootout. After Saturday’s final had ended 2-2 in regulation time, Japan prevailed 4-1 in the shootout for their maiden Azlan Shah Cup crown.

“In normal playing time, we should have won this match,” Oltmans told reporters after the match. “There were so many opportunities for us to get back and increase the score in our favour. In the first half we did great and also in the second half we created so many opportunities.

“Japan were much better in the third quarter and there is no doubt about that. They got what they deserved today. We still have a lot to do and there are many promising players. We have a lot to master our tactics and how we want to play. The boys were everywhere trying to execute the ball into goal but that did not happen till the end.”

Pakistan next feature at the FIH Nations Cup in Poland, which begins later this month, and Oltmans said he hopes his side can go one better at the upcoming tournament.

“If you are in the final you must win the final,” he added. “There is one thing though —the team that won here will not win the Nations Cup [as Japan will not be competing] and now we have a chance.”

In a closely-fought clash, Japan dominated early on with quick attacking moves and got their reward in the 12th minute when Seren Tanaka made the breakthrough.Pakistan sprang into action and started the second half with more purpose, probing the Japanese defence.

Ajaz Ahmed found the leveller, when he was the quickest to react to a rebound in the 34th minute and Pakistan were celebrating again soon after when Abdul Rehman put the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs to give his side the lead.

The twin strikes seemed to have rocked Japan but they regained their composure and Kazumasa Matsumoto’s effort brought parity with 13 minutes to go.

It set up an interesting finale as both sides pressed for the winner, only to see the match go down to penalties.

Pakistan failed to score from their first two attempts and despite Ammad Butt converting the third attempt, Matsumoto made sure that the trophy would go to Japan.

“Pakistan is a big team with a big reputation in world hockey and today we will cherish this victory over the former Sultan Azlan Shah Cup champions,” Japan coach Takashi Yoshikawa told reporters.

“I am very happy and proud of my players as they gave an outstanding performance. They never gave up at any time.”

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2024

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