Upset, or End of Pakistan Hockey?

Posted on December 12, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Sports
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Adil Najam

The Chinese men’s hockey team just recorded their first-ever victory against Pakistan. But what a victory it was; or, rather, what a defeat for Pakistan.

The Chinese team stunned everyone – not least the Pakistanis – by beating the seven-time champions 2-1 in the Asian Games semi-finals in Doha, Qatar. China will now face South Korea in the Final. The website of the Pakistan Hockey Federation has the motto ‘urge to conquer’; the urge was not strong enough in this case!

This means that for the first time in 48 years, there will be no South Asian team playing in the Asian Games finals. Maybe calling this the ‘end of Pakistan hockey’ is too dramatic. But, certainly, South Asia no longer ‘owns’ the game as it once did; East Asia now not only owns it, but dominates it at the continental level (the women’s final will be between Japan and China).

According to an Associated Press report of the game:

Pakistan’s players were left stunned as Lu Fenghui [who scored the golden goal on a penalty corner) was mobbed by his teammates after fashioning the biggest upset in Asian Games history…. “I have no words to describe this moment, I’ve just pinched myself to believe that I’m not dreaming,” said Chinese captain Song Yi, speaking with the help of a translator and struggling to control his emotions.

China’s South Korean coach Kim Song-ryul said his defenders played an outstanding game to thwart Pakistan’s raids. “Pakistan’s team is very experienced, but we were waiting for our chances. Modern hockey is different and every country is into it,” Kim said. He said the Chinese men’s team was fast improving and would give a formidable display when it makes is Olympic debut in 2008.

Pakistan captain Rehan Butt was angry at South Korean umpire Kim Hong-lae for awarding China the penalty corner that produced the golden goal. “He gave the penalty corner when the ball was outside the circle, from where it rose after hitting the stick of a Pakistani defender,” Butt said. Butt said Pakistan missed a lot of chances, but China’s defense was excellent. “It just wasn’t our day. Our penalty corner shooter, Muhammad Imran was not able to convert even once, but this is a young team and can serve Pakistan well in future,” he said.

Pakistan called the shots in the contest and was on the verge of victory before China equalized 10 seconds from the end on its first penalty corner. Skipper Butt put Pakistan ahead in the 20th minute on a square-pass from Shakeel Abbasi inside the striking circle, but the former Olympic and World Cup champion failed to capitalize on nine penalty corners it forced during the 70-minute regulation period and one more in extra-time.

… Pakistan has now failed to make the Asian Games final for the fourth consecutive time since winning the last of its seven gold medals in 1990.

It would be disingenuous to call this a mere upset. Even in the group matches Pakistan was saved by a goal-less draw against Japan to inch into the semi-finals. We have lamented before about the attention deficit for hockey; including our own. But maybe there is also a performance deficit. For those of us who still remember the grace and skill of Shahnaz, Sami, Islah and so many others, this is not just sad; it is tragic.

One can blame the change in hockey rules and surfaces for the decline of Pakistan hockey. But for how long? When conditions change, then so should you. We did not. And this is the consequence. No one defeat is ever all-important. There will, indeed, be more games to play; and, hopefully, to win. But this may be one defeat too many.

24 responses to “Upset, or End of Pakistan Hockey?”

  1. Owais Mughal says:

    Being grown up in Karachi, I can tell that hockey is not as popular in the city as it once was. While in 80s there were regular hockey clubs in many localities, they are hard to find now. Nowadays i don’t even see anyone playing hockey in dusty grounds or streets anymore (except for Habib Public School). This trend shows in the selection of national team also. For both cricket and hockey, national teams now come from smaller cities and villages. I don’t beleive in the rhetoric of some city being neglected on purpose. It may happen once or twice but not for over 20 years

  2. Kashif says:

    Bhitai, my apologies for not including Karachi. You are right: Karachi is a place that can never be ignored when it comes to anything in Pakistan, be it sports, business, politics or anything else. What I meant is that there should be training camps for the talented in all major known hockey centers. I also missed Sialkot. I have personally known and seen players who came out of abject poverty with seemingly god-gifted skills of dribbling.

    Training camps are not the only answer either (since we all know about the perpetual shortage of funds in all of our sports governing bodies thanks to rampant corruption). Just setting up a system where there are domestic city teams playing against each other on a regular basis will be a good starting point (don’t mind if I sound like Imran Khan).

    Another very key factor in the decline of subcontinental hockey is the change in the way the game is played – it is completely European-style now! Which basically means no individual play, no dribbling, no finesse. I used to play quite a bit of hockey and some time back when I was visiting home (Islamabad) I saw a match between Australia and Pakistan (I think). I was both surprised and disgusted at the same time. No offside, no obstruction, thick fat hockeys and lots of passing, almost no dribbling at all! Europeans tried but failed until the 90s to change hockey into their own style but thanks to the likes of Shahbaz, we countered successfully. It seemed to be that finally, the gora has won out…yet again.

  3. Adil Najam says:

    Another update.

    Pakistan beat Japan 4-2 in the third place play-off to win Bronze medal; and, more importantly, a place in the 2008 Olympics.

    In other Asian Games news, India beat Pakistan 35-22 in the Kabaddi Fianls, leaving Pakistan with a Silver Medal.

    Nice posts of this at Teeth Maestro and Silsala-i-Mah-o-Sal.

  4. Adil Najam says:

    By way of an update, I wanted to share this Reuters report.

    There are three points of interest here:

    1. PHF seems to at least recognize the need for major change.
    2. Note the rejection of reverting to older players… “”Even when they were playing we won nothing of importance in the last few years so it is best we move on and prepare a team under a new management for 2008 Olympics.”
    3. Note the one-sentence about Malaysia’s claim that the Pakistan team fixed the match against Japan? The result of that WAS a bit of a surprise too. What do you think is the validity of this claim?

    The Reuters report:

    KARACHI (Reuters) – Pakistan hockey needs a radical overhaul if it is to move forward from its latest debacle at the Asian Games in Doha, a senior Pakistan Hockey Federation official said on Thursday…

    Malaysian hockey coach Nur Azmi has also accused Pakistan of fixing a match with Japan, which ended in a goaless draw and kept his team out of the semi-finals.

    “The truth is Pakistan hockey needs radical surgery. This is the best lot we have,” PHF secretary Akhtar-ul-Islam told Reuters. Pakistan won Olympic gold in 1960, ’68 and ’84 but have not taken a hockey title since winning the Champions Trophy and World Cup in 1994. “We are now going to announce a new team management before our bilateral series against India in March-April, 2007,” Islam said. “We might not go for a foreign coach but certainly we will appoint a foreign trainer and physiotherapist,” the PHF official said, adding that they believed many of their problems came from fitness concerns about playing on artificial playing surfaces.

    Pakistan, whose last two major titles came under Dutch coach Hans Jorritsma, overlooked five of their top players for the Games after they snubbed a training camp to play European league hockey. Islam said the PHF would not panic and turn to senior players. “Even when they were playing we won nothing of importance in the last few years so it is best we move on and prepare a team under a new management for 2008 Olympics,” he added.

  5. muawiya says:

    i think what we need is a come back of some of our old players. Why can’t we bring in the experience of people like Mansoor Ahmed back into our team. Those people took us to great heights and would still be willing to do that for their country. Their very advice could be a good guide even if theydon’t play.

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