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'Pakistan have to be fearless now'

Published Aug 04, 2012 06:40pm


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The term 'out of sorts' could best describe Pakistan's performance against Great Britain. -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 reviews Pakistan’s performance against Great Britain and previews the next match against South Africa on Sunday.

Much like every Pakistani who got their hopes high after a great start by the Greenshirts at the London Olympics, the result against Great Britain (GBR) has left me thoroughly disappointed. But all is not lost and Pakistan can still make it to the semis, provided they put in that extra effort. The fans should stand together with the team at this crucial stage.

Humbled by the hosts

Pakistan were looking sharp as the two teams stood together for their respective national anthems. But when play began it was a completely different story. The term 'out of sorts' could best describe Pakistan's performance.

GB got onto the score sheet just after four minutes of play through James Tindal as Pakistan failed to get out of the blocks for a good 10-15 minutes before they settled somewhat. After that they managed to hold possession and make plays but their efforts came to nothing when, against the run, Jonty Clarke scored the second goal in 26th minute. Pakistan created some chances of their own but went into half-time with nothing to show.

They were not as sharp as they were in the first two games – average in counter control and the defense was very static. They were ball-watching on several occasions, which put them under tremendous stress. In the second-half, Pakistan played much better and created penalty corners (PCs). The first one came when the scoreline was 2-0, and the game could've changed there and then. But captain Sohail Abbas failed to convert three in a row which came one after the other. This can be put down to a lack of planning and communication from the bench because, ideally, an indirect variation was required after the first miss. After that Pakistan failed to stop GBR's incursion and they scored two more goals from PCs through Ashley Jackson in the 50th and 67th minute. It can be safely said that all departments were not up to the mark. Penalty corner defense, which was really good in the past matches, was very average as was the goal-keeping from Imran Shah. There was no connection between the midfield and strikers. Pakistan scored their only goal in the 70th minute through Abbas' low shot on a PC. There were no movements from the front line, which meant the defenders were under constant pressure and the midfielders were unable to build up the attack. When they could, the midfielders were not delivering the ball quickly enough. Unity and discipline were clearly lacking.

A much bigger effort was required from Pakistan's goalkeeper but he also failed to deliver. It was a coaching error, as they should have implemented a different, better plan after half-time. But they failed to read the situation. Even when goal-scoring opportunities presented themselves, the Greenshirts were found wanting. They failed to counter GBR's PC defense and should definitely have employed indirect variations. GBR’s goal-keeper James Fair stopped PCs with much more confidence which eventually spurred his team on to score two more goals in the second-half.

The junior-most player in the Pakistan side has been with the team for the last one and a half year so I don't think this team is an inexperienced squad by any stretch. All these players need to step up to plate now and should not rely on the performances of the big names alone. One positive from this match was the tireless attitude of the Pakistani players which should serve them well in the coming games.

Coping with South Africa's variation

They are ranked 12th in the world but they have a great fighting spirit. They don't have big names but play well as a team and don't give up even after conceding goals. South Africa have enjoyed a good run against Pakistan in the recent past, most notably when they beat us in the 2010 World Cup and then in the Commonwealth Games the same year. They have in their ranks, Justin Reid-Ross and their captain Smith, who make a very good PC attack. They are particularly good with indirect variations on the top of the circle so Pakistan should come with a solid plan and keep changing their running formation on corner defense. South Africa try to build up the game from their right side and play long balls on the line. Their strikers employ a lot of horizontal switches to receive the ball on the flank. Their captain is their main player in the build up and should be the one constantly marked. They don't force the attack from the center and enter the circle from the flanks and use the base line well.

One area where Pakistan can really make them pay is their defense. They tend to freeze on odd occasion and normally run in a 3-1 formation on PCs but sometimes change it to a 2-2. High balls from Justin Reid-Ross should be taken seriously.

Make room to attack

Pakistan should play an attacking game from the very first minute. They should not wait for the opportunities, rather make the opportunities. Pakistan should play this game with confidence but not underestimate their opponents. South Africa has looked decent in London so far and the fact that they have beaten Pakistan twice should give Sohail Abbas' men no room for complacency. South Africa's defense is weak on its left side so the game plan for Pakistan should be pretty obvious. Quick restart on free hits will be very effective against them and will help create PCs also.

Pakistan must plan the PC and defense well. The defenders need to particularly look out for the horizontal switch and high balls, which is likely to be a pattern from South Africa. Goal keeper Imran Shah should communicate with defenders to make sure that Pakistan is effective with its counter control and should also adjust the defenders in the right positions.

Pakistan's strikers really need to make themselves counted now. So far the Greenshirts have scored just one field goal. They cannot keep running the same line and should create off the ball movement and some switches to make space which will ultimately help the midfield and the defense. Once this happens the defenders and midfielders can build up play and South Africa will no doubt be left wanting.

Spirited teamwork essential

The midfielders have an important role and they should join the attack rather than just acting as a barrier for the attacking South Africans. Pakistan should play high speed, pressing hockey and get on the score sheet early. Even when that is achieved they should not sit back and, ideally, try to go for more goals and force the opponents to change their plan. This is will surely create more space for Pakistan to exploit the weak South African defense.

Shakeel Abbasi should be playing as right midfield with Fareed Ahmed on the left and Rizwan (Sr) should be placed as a left striker.  Muhammad Touseeq has not been seen in action in the last two games and he should be used to give rest to some players in the midfield. Touseeq is very talented and can be used anywhere in the midfield.

Muhammd Imran should be used deep in defense and Sohail can be placed on the right-half position with Rizwan (Jr) as his replacement. Pakistan have to show good teamwork in the remaining matches and if they try to change the game individually, then the results will be for the worst. Imran Shah should give solid support to the team which will boost the confidence of the rest of the team and they will play with less fear and display more aggressive intent.

Pakistan should put the match against GBR behind them and enter the field with a new spirit and passion. They must tell themselves that they can still make it to the semis and rest assured, the whole nation is praying for a Pakistan win.

Players to watch

Waseem Ahmed, Muhammad Irfan and Rizwan (Sr).


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Comments (16) Closed

Mohammad Ali Aug 05, 2012 11:28am
No Need To be in tremendous pressure to win. Green-shirts are still winners, but co-operation is needed there!
Jayatheertha Aug 05, 2012 03:15pm
Even we wish Pakistan success.
bixin Aug 05, 2012 09:54am
Pakistan needs luck. Pk can win medal only if holland, Germany,Australia play bad hockey. India played bad hocky and gave chance to holland, Germany,Australia. Dont keep hopes from pk team.
Nasser Ali-Khan Aug 05, 2012 01:17pm
so what's new!
HABIB Aug 04, 2012 07:29pm
Lodhi Aug 04, 2012 07:46pm
No chance.holland, Germany,Australia are still there
Arslan Aug 04, 2012 08:06pm
Go Green. Go for goals. Go for win. Pakistan is praying for you!
Shiraz Aug 04, 2012 08:59pm
Excellent analysis by Salman. Pakistan needs to be itself by being aggressive, fearless and attacking. The first objective should be to beat SA convincingly. Keeping in mind that the goal difference requires a much needed boost. All the frustration and disappointment needs to be put on display against the South Africans. A place in the semifinal is by no means impossible. In fact, the draws between Australia vs Argentina and Great Britain vs South Africa means that the pool is very much wide open. Also, a win against Australia isn't impossible. Especially considering the Aussie draw against Argentina. Australia is vulnerable.
ahmed Aug 04, 2012 09:40pm
The one who praises your (Salman Akbar's) article finds his comments here. Check it out in previous articles. Also must mention PHF foul playing with the team's seniors and sacking of Dutch hockey coach only four months before the Olympics. The blame should be set on the management and not the players.
Ijaz Mir Aug 04, 2012 09:50pm
You have been playing for Pakistan, no one knows better than you. I have noticed when ever they are down by one goal they loose all the hopes. Sohail Abbas is our plenty corner expert, but he is not in form, He is under pressure to score. Let other guys do the job and try variations. Again loved your good analysis, keep it up.
Abdullah Aug 04, 2012 11:09pm
I dont know salman bhai......they r good players...but they r lacking in strategy.....they seem to get stuck in the right corner position,,,,and they seem to lack stamina...they cant break away from a opponents attack and launch a abrupt offensive...and i dont know y they cant they use the right in position or the left in position to attack...y do they always stick to the right out position....they just get cornered while attacking.....its great players....but poor game planing.
AHMED Aug 04, 2012 11:10pm
Salman has done a brilliant analysis here. Any team can beat any team a given look at Argentina and playing two different and two completely different results. Pakistan should have a game plan and stick with it. I have seen many excellent ambushed by an average over coached team because on that day best team has been had by a better coached and scouted team. In my college we had a coach who would always make his player who were not going anywhere sneak up on top team and they would make the unbelievable happen. U can beat any team if you are better prepared then they are.
Abdullah Aug 04, 2012 11:13pm
brilliant players.......under paid players......fat bellied politicized poor management team....
Rizwan Hamid USA Aug 05, 2012 04:19am
Salman, it took you about 2,ooo words to describe Pakistan's play, when you could have done it in one word. It is called INEPTITUDE. We have always had a fixation of being ahead of India. If we beat India, then all was well. Now that India is rated # 10 in the world and Pakistan # 8, it seems we are trying very hard to overtake them and become # 11. I think they will succeed very soon
Ali Vaqar Awan Aug 05, 2012 07:58am
Well written analysis by our expert goal keeper Salman Akbar. Pakistan had awful day against GB and nothing worked out so well. Pakistan should forget about that match and focus on coming two games that are against South Africa and Australia. Go for victory against and play attacking game with proper purpose and planing. Pakistan should avoid complecency against South Africa as no team these days can be taken lightly. Proper cordination needs to be between attack, midfield and defence. My prayers and support are with my team. Pakistan should fight till the last breath, score more goals and play the best. Good luck Pakistan hockey team.
Faizan Aug 05, 2012 08:38am
Please make me proud this , I woke up at 1am to watch the last match and I was very disappointed. Jeeway Jeeway Pakistan