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 talks about Pakistan’s semifinal defeat against the Netherlands and previews the bronze medal match against India.
Greenshirts unable to handle Dutch pressure
In Pakistan’s semifinal against the Netherlands, it was the Dutch who were in control right from the first minute. They scored in the second minute of the game and kept Pakistan on the back foot. Pakistan’s defence was completely clueless and had no answer for the attack. Midfield was just forcing useless passes and lost the ball possession very easily. Pakistani attackers also tried to change the game individually which did not work.
There is still a question mark over short corner conversion and Sohail Abbas was missed badly. Goalkeeping department also failed and the whole team had no connection during the game. Netherlands put a lot of pressure on the ball and was very solid in midfield. Pakistani counter control was nowhere and Dutch strikers showed their class on one vs one with the Green defenders.
It was a big match and Pakistan could not handle the pressure even with an experienced side. However, Pakistan can still end up on the podium with a bronze medal.
Taking advantage of India's weakness
Pakistan are up against India in the third-fourth place play-off. It will be a good game to watch as both teams will go all out to win a medal. Both Asian sides will be playing against each other in a medal match after eight years.
India have one of the fastest counters in the world and counter control will be the key for Pakistan to win the game. India have a lot of young players in the team and have some very skillful strikers. Pakistan’s defence will have to mark them tightly and should not allow them to run with the ball. The connection between defense and midfield should be at its best otherwise India will not waste a single second to enter in the circle. India are decent penalty corner takers and Raghunath is their main drag flicker and his favorite angle is on the left side of Imran Butt.
Sardar Singh is the player who can change the game and is very intelligent at the back. He should not be allowed to be the part of the Indian build up. Pakistan have to keep the pressure on the ball all the time and when attacking, the defenders should mark free Indian's strikers instead of watching the attack. In the circle India also play a lot of balls on the second post and Pakistani defenders should be ready for it. However, India’s defending and goalkeeping is weak and Pakistan should take maximum advantage of that shortfall.
Aggression and variation the key
Pakistan should start the game with full pressure and the midfield will have to help the defenders get out of the pressure the Indians will be putting. Pakistan have to move forward as a unit and should use the guard every time when attacking. India defend with a lot of players on the ball side so transfer against them will make the difference and will give a lot of space to Pakistani strikers.
On penalty corner attack, Indian goalkeeper bends too much on his right side so there will be lot of gap for Mohammad Imran and Mohammad Ateeq on the left side. Pakistan should try some variations as this will also surprise Indian defense as they must be expecting the direct flick.
This game is not important because it is against India it is important because it is a medal game. Pakistan should not be under extra pressure because they are playing against India and instead enter the field in an aggressive mood.
Imran Butt should discard his poor performance in the semi final and should be ready for an attacking game. The defenders should also help him and should not allow Indian attackers to have open and easy shots on the goal. Good luck, Greenshirts. Just go and do your best!
Players to watch:
Shakeel Abbasi, Imran Butt and Rashid Mehmood