AUCKLAND: Pakistan's dream of a triumphant return to Champions Trophy hockey ended with a 4-2 loss to Spain on Monday, as defending champions Australia brushed aside Great Britain 4-1.
Hosts New Zealand thrashed South Korea 6-1 to retain a chance of joining Australia among the top four in medal contention at the last major tournament before the London Olympics, while the Netherlands beat Germany 3-2.
Spain's Pau Quemada scored two second-half goals to inflict Pakistan's second defeat in as many matches, meaning the Green Shirts cannot finish higher than fifth in their first Champions Trophy appearance since 2007.
Manager Khawaja Junaid said his side had played well at the eight-nation tournament and a rebuilding programme ahead of the London Games remained on track.
“It's good for us to be here and see what level other teams are at,” he said.
“We're trying to improve. We made some mistakes but played good hockey... we're growing steadily. We've seen some good skills and good movement.”
Pakistan made a disastrous start when veteran Spanish captain Santi Freixa found the net after just two minutes, converting the first penalty corner of the match.
With Spain dominating early possession, Pakistan were forced into a counter-attacking game, looking to hit Spain on the break.
Shakeel Abbasi equalised in the ninth minute, when Spanish keeper Francisco Cortes got a glove to his looping shot but could not prevent the ball dribbling over the line.
Gabriel Dabanch restored Spain's lead before half-time when he latched onto a pass in the Pakistan area and executed a deft turn to evade two oncoming defenders before scoring.
Pakistan's intensity lifted after the break and the reward came when Sohail Abbas, the highest scorer in world hockey, made it 2-2 with a trademark drag-flick goal from a penalty corner.
Pakistan created chances as Abbasi drove the attack but failed to convert them, while Quemada made no mistake slotting home penalty goals in the 57th and 65th minutes.
Freixa predicted the improving Pakistanis, who will remain in the tournament but will finish in the bottom four, would be a threat in London.
“They're growing a lot and looking to the Olympics they'll have a great squad,” he said. In the other Pool A match, Australia had little trouble defeating Great Britain 4-1.
Chasing an unprecedented fourth straight title, the Kookaburras found their rhythm after a stuttering display against Spain in the opening round, with goals for Matthew Butturini, Matt Gohdes, Luke Doerner and skipper Jamie Dwyer.
Coach Ric Charlesworth said the scoreline would have been even more emphatic if the world champions had not squandered two of their three penalty corner attempts.
“We were much better today... but you're never happy with that sort of conversion rate,” he said.
New Zealand bounced back from a 2-1 defeat to Germany in the opening round to record their best ever win at the Champions Trophy, with vice-captain Shea McAleese scoring a goal either side of half-time in a 6-1 rout.
The Netherlands needed a late goal from Rogier Hofman to secure a 3-2 win over Germany, dominating the game but making life difficult for themselves by failing to score off any of their eight penalty corners.
The initial pool phase ends on Tuesday with all teams except Pakistan and South Korea in the running to join Australia in the top four.