A brilliant 61st minute short-corner conversion by Mohammad Imran inspired Pakistan to edge past South Korea 3-2 and claim 7th position at the London Olympics, improving upon their 8th place finish at the Beijing Games in 2008.
Imran, who had scored a goal off a penalty-corner in Pakistan’s 2-0 win against Argentina last week before getting sidelined for the rest of the matches, again came up to expectation of the team when he put Pakistan 3-2 ahead with a powerful drag-flick in the closing minutes of the game.
At the half way stage, Pakistan were trailing 2-1. However, they regrouped to produce much better game in the second half, scoring through Haseem Khan who found the net in the 42nd minute after a short melee in front of the cage to help Pakistan level 2-2 before Imran hit the winner.
To their credit, Pakistan bounced back twice in a game that was played at a high pace, especially towards the end of the first half as three goals were scored in a span of five minutes, giving South Korea 2-1 lead.
It was Sung Hye Hyun who put the Koreans in the lead when he fired his first off a field attempt in the 30th minute.
Pakistan restored the parity (1-1) when Waqas Sharif scored a fine field goal in the 31st minute. However, the Koreans soon moved ahead when Sung Hyun banged in his second goal in the 33rd minute.
After the resumption, Pakistan displayed improved skill with a lot of purpose and sting to their attacks. Haseem made it 2-2 with a fine field goal and then Imran cashed in on a short-corner to seal the fate of the match.
In his post-match comments, head coach Akhtar Rasool looked a relieved man and said his team played very good hockey against the Koreans and totally dominated the midfield exchanges.
Assessing Pakistan’s overall show in the Olympics, Akhtar said his team did not play badly in the Games but the poor show against the Aussies diminished their hopes of going into the semis.
He blamed goalie Imran Shah for his shoddy goalkeeping and said had the youngster been more efficient under the bar, the results would have been different for Pakitan. He also rued the many missed chances by the Pakistan forwards in some key games which cost the team dearly.
The veteran Olympian also hit out at the umpiring standards in the Olympics and said Australians scored five goals and not seven against Pakistan, as video footage clearly showed two goals awarded in controversial manner.
Asked if he had launched any protest with the tournament director about that controversial goals, Akhtar said such protests never made any impact on the outcome of the matches.
Akhtar cited the example of the Spanish coach Dani Martin who had lodged a protest against the decision of the umpire for denying a goal in the dying moments of their crucial tie against Great Britain on Tuesday.
However, FIH technical director Bjorn Isberg settled the issue with Martin on the following morning by saying, “Isberg and Martin discussed Martin’s post-game comments. After a discussion, Isberg felt that no formal disciplinary hearing was necessary. The FIH considers the matter closed and looks forward to a successful conclusion to the tournament.”
Akhtar further said his boys had the talent and resolved he would turn them into a winning combination by the 2014 World Cup in the Netherlands.