Salman Akbar is a veteran goal-keeper who made his debut for Pakistan 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 the Netherlands in the Champions Trophy and previews the next match against Belgium on Sunday.
Downed by the Dutch
In the opening match against the Netherlands, Pakistan made a lot of basic mistakes. Up until the 17th minute when Waqas Sharif scored a beautiful diving goal, both teams were in the neutral zone. Then Dutch took advantage of Pakistan’s weak midfield and managed to level the score just before the break. Pakistan were getting outclassed as the match progressed and the Netherlands grabbed three points.
The Dutch faced no problem in facing Pakistan’s build-up from the back and grab possession of the ball. Pakistan’s strikers were trying to beat the Dutch defence by individual skills and they failed at that. The one time the Pakistan strikers made passes, it resulted in a goal but the defence was very static. It was good to see Shakeel Abbasi in good form and captain Mohammad Imran also had a decent game at the back. Imran Butt looked aggressive and alert in goal and hopefully he will continue this in the remaining tournament. However, penalty corner defence should be improved and defenders should also be ready to take the rebound quickly.
Agression and team work key
Next up for Pakistan are 8th ranked Belgium, a team which has improved a lot in the last four years. They were impressive at the 2012 London Olympics where they finished fifth. Marc Lammers, who has a very successful background as coach with the Dutch ladies’ team, is their new coach and is handling his first outing with the team at the Champions Trophy.
Belgium are very good in quick restarts and use variations on the top circle for which Pakistan’s corner defence has to be very intelligent. They are also good penalty takers and have an impressive record against the Greenshirts in the past years. Pakistan must be very careful as Belgium’s strikers have a very good coordination and always keep pressure on the ball and one of their qualities is regaining the ball after losing it.
They mostly attack from the sides and like to generate the attack from the midfield. In the build-up, they also use high balls and Pakistan’s defence must be ready for that.
Pakistan should start aggressively and should start with full press at least for the first 10 minutes to set the pace of the game. In the build-up Pakistan should keep the ball speed high and also try to defend their attacks in group and should avoid one vs one situations while defending. The gap between the lines should not be much other wise Belgium will punish straight away. Strikers should create more short corners which will create pressure on Belgium’s defence. Waseem is the most experienced player so he should hold the midfield well to keep the team in the game.
Players to watch:
Muhammad Imran, Waseem Ahmed and Haseem Khan
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