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Expert preview: Pakistan vs Spain

Published Jul 29, 2012 06:28pm


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Spain pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s chances of advancing to the next stage in the Olympics. -Photo by AFP

Salman Akbar is a veteran goal-keeper who made his debut for Pakistan's hockey team in 2001. Termed by Olympian Shahid Ali Khan as one of the most hard-working players in the game, Akbar has won the 2005 Rabo Trophy and the 2010 Asian Games gold medal with Pakistan. He was adjudged the ‘best keeper’ in both events. Here, he previews Pakistan's opening game of the London Olympics against Spain (at 17:45 PST on Monday).

There has been a lot of discussion on the opening ceremony of the 30th Olympic Games that highlighted the British culture and history. For me, the stand-out moment was the lighting of the flame. Handing over the flame to the youth was a great move. Truly inspiring.

It was also nice to see the Pakistan contingent in our traditional shalwar kameez, which promoted our culture. Personally, I think this is a tradition which should be carried on in the future. It was a big relief and a great moment to see Sohail Abbas as the flag-bearer – he deserved to lead from the front. Thank God there was no repeat of the fiasco from the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

First test

Now that the pomp and celebrations are over, it is time to get down to the real business and wield the hockey sticks. Pakistan’s hockey campaign begins on Monday against a very tough Spanish side.

Spain have become strong contenders after finishing second behind Germany at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, bagging their first medal in hockey. They are currently ranked fifth in the world and pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s chances of advancing to the next stage in the Olympics.

Spain are slow to get into the rhythm of the tournament and are not able to give their best show in opening encounters in most cases. Here lies Pakistan’s advantage as this will be a very important match for them. Despite not being very strong tournament starters, Spain have had a good year of preparations for the London, including their runners-up finish at the 2011 Champion's trophy in New Zealand so they will remain one of the podium favourites.


The Spanish team is full of skilful players, including Santiago Freixa, Pablo Amat and Eduard Tubau and they all come together to form a very strong and seamless attack. The Spanish love to threaten their opponents from the left, with their trademark back-hand shots. Here, the role of Pakistan’s defence will be very important, especially in the deep. I expect Spain to keep the Pakistani defence line on their toes. The goalkeeper, Imran Shah, will have to show great communication skills when he shouts out to the defenders to keep the team away from trouble.

Spain are relatively weak in the midfield and they have to rely on support from their strikers to try and keep the spaces compact. Apart from the attacks from open play, Spain can also be very threatening from penalty corners. They have a good penalty corner attack with Pau Quemeda and Santiago Frexia as their main drag-flickers.

Pakistan are lucky to have the world’s best drag-flicker and leading goal-scorer in their side. The Greenshirts should try to win as many penalty corners as possible and give Sohail Abbas maximum opportunities to score. This will be a good way of bringing Spain under pressure as they are not very confident in defence, especially when it comes to defending turn overs.

Pakistan’s woes

In deep defence, they are weak in man-to-man marking and leave spaces behind. However, Pakistan have problems of their own in their forward line. Over the years, they have been found guilty of missing several goal-scoring opportunities, sometimes, really easy ones!

Before leaving for London, our coaches insisted, as always, they have worked hard on it and have almost overcome this problem. If it is true, then Pakistan will not be a easy team to beat.

Pakistan’s midfield has some really energetic players and has the services of the most experienced player of the team in Waseem Ahmed.

Strategy for Greenshirts

The Greenshirts should not focus on playing attacking hockey for all 70 minutes of the game. Instead, they would be better off waiting Spain to make mistakes and build on them. They need to focus on doing a lot of turnovers and get maximum numbers of penalty corners.

Pakistan must try and break the connection between Spain’s strikers and for that they have to play most of the game half-court press.

If Pakistan’s players and coaches play with patience, Spain will be in real trouble.


Pakistan should start with three strikers, three midfielders and four defenders. Shakeel Abbasi should start in the midfield and if needed later, he can play as a striker. Rehan Butt is quite capable as a lone striker.

Sohail should not play in deep defence as he is very effective on the sides so he can be very useful as a right-half. If he plays as a full-back, then Rizwan Junior should be the right-half as he is a very talented and energetic player.

Waseem should hold the centre with Fareed Ahmed as a left midfielder and they can switch their positions when needed. Rizwan Senior can also be used in the midfield as he has also shown several good performances as a left midfielder.

In deep defence Muhammad Irfan is the best choice he is a solid defender and a brave player. I haven't seen Spain doing variations on penalty corners so Pakistan should not have much problem defending PCs as they have good first runners in Rizwan Senior and Muhammad Irfan. Our goalkeeper Imran Shah has a big responsibility on his shoulders to support the whole team with a good performance and give some much-needed confidence to the team.

Players to watch

Sohail Abbas, Shakeel Abbasi, Muhammad Rashid, Muhammad Irfan.


For me, a draw will be a good result for Pakistan but losing all three points will really harm their chances of progressing.



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Comments (27) Closed

lol Jul 30, 2012 01:32pm
yep and spain are pretending to hurt them selves in the game
Rizwan Hamid Jul 30, 2012 10:10am
Thank you for a very well written article. You are the first ex- Pakistani player who has anything intelligent to say. The moment a Pakistani player is no longer part of the team, all he ever does is criticize the team, the administration, the management , the coaches and the selectors. They are all jealous for not having the jobs that others occupy . But when thay are given an opportunity, they never have any answers to fix the problems. ( Akthar Rasool is an example) We as a nation all want our team to win meals, but no one wants to pay salaries to potential future players. The level of commitment required today in all sports demands 100% or your time, not just practice and play on weekends. Teams are also built over a 2 year training period together, not just a four week training camp before the olympics. Unless hockey is promoted in the media, it will never attract sponsors. Until we make a determined effort to regain our past glory, please don't expect miracles from the boys. They deserve our best wishes. I was lucky eough to watch all hockey games at the 84 Los Angeles Olympics. Then too, all I heard from fellow Pakistanis before the games was. " Yaar hamarri hockey team ki ab wo baat nahi jo pehlay thi " Miracles can happen if we are behind the team. Every sport talks about home ground advantage. What they are saying is: They want a crowd to cheer them.! How many parents in Pakistan actually go and cheer their boys at their school matches? Almost none ! It is done all day long in the West. That is what inspires kids to become world Champions
G.a Jul 30, 2012 01:32pm
Good article. I beg to differ about the Pakistani contingent. I thought it looked rather dull. They could have worn colorful costumes from each area or province of Pakistan and could have been more cheerful. This is a chance for countries to showcase their culture and to stand out from the crowd. Contrast this with the Indians and their vibrant yellow Saris and turbans.
Muhammad Musa Jul 29, 2012 06:28pm
Coversation of penalty corner could be the deciding factor. A weak point of Pakistan and a strong point of all European teams.
saythetruth Jul 30, 2012 09:09am
Excellent article this what we need our own people writing meaningful thing that are important our country.
Muhammad Jul 30, 2012 01:01am
Pakistan should hold possession, attack and if attack fails try to stop Spain from counter attacks. Best strategy would be to never allow Spain to come into momentum and break the momentum as much as they can. Midfield will be the key to this match if Pakistan wants to win. Ofcourse conversion of penalty corner will be a crucial deciding factor but Pakistan should also try to score directly so Sohail Abbas should not get exhausted and take too much pressure.
aybis Jul 30, 2012 07:58am
it would have useful and better if you provided analysis, goals and a bit of history on the spanish players for us ignorant cricket & football loving pakistanis.
Muhammad Jul 30, 2012 12:03am
Pakistan should hold possession, attack and if attack fails try to stop Spain from counter attacks. Best strategy would be to never allow Spain to come into momentum and break the momentum as much as they can. Midfield will be the key to this match if Pakistan wants to win. Ofcourse conversion of penalty corner will be a crucial deciding factor but Pakistan should also try to score directly so Sohail Abbas should not get exhausted and take too much pressure. Best of Luck Pakistan. InshaAllah we will perform better.
muhammad zahir Jul 29, 2012 10:41pm
If Pakistan show good performance,it will be miracle.
mehtab ali Jul 29, 2012 07:44pm
Inshallah victory will be us
Salman Akbar Jul 29, 2012 07:14pm
i think iPakistan's biggest weapon is penalty corner attack.
Owais Siddiqui Jul 30, 2012 02:22pm
Great job Salman! I liked your analysis. Hope that our dua work for our team and that our specialist "Sohail Abbass" clicks to prove your point.
sher mitha Jul 29, 2012 06:36pm
good luck to good team and it's players at London.....SM
Nasser Ali-Khan Jul 30, 2012 09:50am
Realistically, Pakistan and India will fight out not to be the worst team in the tournament given their record since the mid 80's. Until then Pakistan largely ruled the roost. How the mighty have fallen. It is such a shame that in nearly every aspect of life, Pakistan instead of improving its overall dismal position has only been getting worse. Nevertheless, we pray to Allah for our success; Ameen!
Asghar Jul 30, 2012 09:20am
I think it is time Sohail Abbas to deliver as he is in the team on the merit he is a penalty corner specialist and if cannot handle the stress of captaincy ,then , he should be man enough to admit and let someone else take over and Sohail just concentrates on task at hand.
Irfan Mir Jul 30, 2012 02:01am
In that fateful 2010 world cup, Pakistan surprisingly defeated Spain in New Delhi.......... so i believe Pakistan has a psychological edge over them...... Pakistan should mark Pablo Amat very well, he is a very good attacking player. i have seen him launching single handed counter attacks successfully. For Salman Akbar, thank you for sharing your hockey experiences........... I cant say you how good it feels reading your articles, keep it up. I would be missing you in the green shirt. God Bless You!
sfyn2it Jul 30, 2012 02:22am
nice job with the in-depth analysis! Intelligent writing which actually delivers on what it promised.
dr athar abbas Jul 30, 2012 02:43am
I think Mr Muhammad Musa has only watched Pakistan Hockey in 70s and 80s and he has no idea of who is Sohail abbas. He is the world hockey's biggest scorer in History by a BIG MARGIN.
Deshbir Sandhu Jul 30, 2012 04:25am
I really appricate the deep analyis done by Mr. Salman Akbar.I think if the pak team keep these things in mind,they will definaltely win. GOOD LUCk !
ahmet abdulaziz Jul 30, 2012 04:28am
i understand your point of view. However the truth is that Sohail Abbass is apparently under the captaincy pressure. During the pre-olympic matches, Pakistan could have play a better game, but failed.
Waqas Jul 30, 2012 05:26am
Good analysis, fingers crossed. Hope Pakistan beats Spain today ;)
Ahmed Jan Jul 30, 2012 10:29am
Getting on the victory stand with a Gold in Asian Games in 2010 followed by a Silver in 2011 in Sultan Azlan Shah hockey cup and then in November 2011 in a tri nation tournament beating world no 1 Australia. These achievements came under the Dutch Coach Van Den Heuvel. Very interestingly and sadly the Dutch coach was fired in March 2012 just four months prior to the Olympics. Adding insult to injury senior players were banned from participating in any matches on disciplinary grounds and they remained out of the team training with other young players damaging mental and physical cohesion. Seeing the dismal performance of junior players the PHF decided to reinstate senior players just weeks before the Olympics. Keeping in view the scenario, should we hope for any medal in 2012 Olympics? Keep dreaming and wait for miracles".
Jonzaib Jul 30, 2012 05:45am
Our hockey player will make it big this time InshALLAH.We really dont have a weak team at all this time and can well compete against spain and other good teams.
Zulfiqar Rana Jul 30, 2012 06:46am
good analyse.. Salman Akbar ,thanks for the article ,nice to know that you are writting
Zeeshan Jul 30, 2012 07:09pm
Good article, salman keep writing. we need people of all the fields to write and learn more about their profession. good job done. keep it up.
Rizwan Hamid Jul 30, 2012 09:31pm
And therein lies the whole problem. Improvement comes from hard work and SELF BELIEF, not eating "ghee parathay" and praying to Allah to fix their problems
salahuddin Jul 30, 2012 10:02pm
Good Keep it up! Determine and InshaAllah you are the best dont settle for just for the podium meddle but for the Gold. My advise for each player check opponent, look for the opportunity and try to receive and make a move to force the defenceman allow you to receive the penaltly corner. You can do it , May Allah Bless you all. Salahuddin London Ontrio.