IT was a third placing match Pakistan won, but it was huge for this relatively young side being built for the future when they beat Japan 5-3 in exciting flowing match in the third and fourth placing match in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2022 International Men’s hockey tournament at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium, Ipoh, tonight.
Maybe it was the presence of newly elected FIH president Tayab Datuk Tayyab Ikram, who after the game went down onto to the field to congratulate them and also met the Japanese players and officials.,
Tayab now a citizen of Macau, he was born in Pakistan.
But Pakistan’s South African coach Siegfried Aikman attributed his team’s performance to finally playing to their potential and him knowing the Japanese well.
“We are relatively a young team building for the World Cup in 2026. We are changing the mind set of players to play modern hockey and in the short time of four weeks we have had, they have been performing in patches and at the same time making mistakes,” said Aikman.
“But today they played with the winning mentality and made less mistakes. They also played to our game strategy to attack quickly and shut them down.
“However, there is a lot more for us to learn, correct, be consistent and to learn to play the European way.
“But overall it has been a good trip for us to be exposed to high performance matches and against Japan today we did well against a team who had 10 players who played in the Olympics and another five who were in the Olympic training squad. I had our captain (Umar Bhutta) who was the senior player and I had nine players who earned their first cap here and few more with less than 10 caps.”
In the earlier round robin fixture, both teams had played to a 2-2 with Japan coming from two goals down to draw.
Japan’s coach Akira Takahashi was disappointed that his team made too many errors.
“We lead, then conceded, allowed Pakistan to take the lead and every time we reduced the deficit, we allowed them to get back into the game through our own mistakes,” said Takahashi.
“I intend to make some changes when we return home as I am going to look at some young players at home where we have identified. If they are fit and can fit into my plans, I make take a few of them to them Nations Cup at the end of the month.
“We came here wanting to win the title and having missed the final, we should have returned with a third placing.”
Japan took the lead in the game in the 10th minute through Kentaro Fukuda.
But Pakistan did not waste any time to respond, when the next minute in a quick counter attack, Abdul Shahid equalised in a one-on-one situation against Japan’s goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa.
Then, Pakistan took the lead in the 18th minute in their first penalty corner, when Arbaz Ahmad sounded the board to lead 2-1
Then, Rooman scored off a goalmouth melee in the 27th minute to lead 3-1
Japan reduced the deficit when Yuma Nagai scored off a field goal in the 31st minute but before Japan could push further, Pakistan moved forward with their fourth goal when Rooman scored again in the 35th minute for a 4-2 lead.
Japan after several close call and misses to score after that, finally saw Yuma scored his second goal in the 50th minute to reduce the deficit again to 3-4.
But again it in a short lived, as Pakistan increased their lead further in the 53rd minute, when Abdul Rana scored after a brilliant solo effort by Juniad Manzoor to set up to score for 5-3.
The match ended 5-3 in favour of Pakistan as they fell to the ground kissing it and celebrating. Another feather to their cap was their captain Umar was awarded the man of the match.