IPOH: Pakistan played one of their best matches in the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup to come back twice to force a 2-2 draw with Malaysia but their efforts were not enough to ensure a podium finish for them even with a game to go.
Hosts Malaysia are in the driving seat for a place in the final and despite being second in the table with eight points, they only need to avoid defeat against India, who are already out of contention, in their final group game on Saturday.
In a match witnessed by more than 12,000 cheering fans, hosts Malaysia took the lead through Faizal Saari and Mohamed Razie Rahim, while Muhammad Imran and Shafqat Rasool were the scorers for Pakistan.
According to former great Shahnaz Sheikh, Pakistan employed a flawed game-plan which eventually decided their fate.
“The Pakistan team-management used a game-plan in the Azlan Shah Cup which could have been a hit with megastar players like legendary Olympians Samiullah or Hasan Sardar but with the contemporary players, it was destined to be a flop. The players were too far away from each other and had not choice but to play an individual game under the circumstances. They should have moved across the field as a unit. Their long passes were constantly being intercepted and hence they kept losing possession,” Sheikh told PPI after the game.
“Pakistan should have proved its fifth standing in the world and second seeding in the tournament. But it failed to win matches even against much lower-ranked teams. They even lost to India, who were defeated by everyone else,” he added.
Pakistan will now face Asian rival South Korea in the last league match.
In the other games of the day, table-toppers Australia drew 3-3 with South Korea and lead Malaysia on goal difference but have to next play New Zealand, who beat India 2-0 to revive their hopes of getting into the final.
The resurgent Kiwis have won their last two games to claim six points and need a win against Australia.
If Australia loses, they will be cheering India on in the next game as they will drop out if Malaysia gets a result.
Defending champions New Zealand sealed their win over a lacklustre India after breaking the deadlock in the second half.
Andy Hayward scored the first goal in the 40th minute and Cory Bennett contributed the second in the 57th.
New Zealand coach Colin Batch said it was always good to win back-to-back matches.
“It was a good performance from the players and we played according to plan,” he said.
Australia could have sealed their final place but will need a result on Saturday after their draw with South Korea.
The Koreans were the early aggressors but it was only in the 35th minute that they took the lead through Nam Hyun-Woo, and were a minute from clinching their second win when the Kookaburras found the net with their last hit of the ball.
Australia managed to pull level in the 41st minute through Joshua Miller, however three minutes later their hard work came undone with an own goal after a scramble in the D after a penalty corner attempt from the Koreans.
The world champions reduced the deficit in the 58th minute with Miller netting his second goal, then came the last minute attempt as they earned a penalty corner in the 70th minute and Timothy Deavin dived to deflect the shot into goal and earn a point for his team.