After two poor defeats, Pakistan displayed a far better brand of hockey in their last league match against New Zealand, ranked five places higher, at the 4-Nation International Festival of Hockey at Melbourne’s State Netball Hockey Centre.
Green Shirts were already out of contention for the gold medal match while Black Sticks had everything to play for. Win was the minimum requirement to remain in contention for the final.
Twice, Pakistan went ahead via penalty corner and penalty stroke. Each time, they conceded the equaliser via sloppy defending. Finally, New Zealand, who had replaced the goal keeper with an outfield player found the winner with just three minutes left, through their only PC conversion of the day.
Pakistan had more of the possession in the first quarter. However, New Zealand had the first penalty corner of the day courtesy an unforced error by skipper Irfan. A good rush resulted in a swift counter attack which culminated in the PC at the other end. The New Zealand goal keeper was called into action thrice in succession. Off the third rebound, Umar Bhutta, who had injected the PC, slotted in from a close range.
If Pakistan were better during the initial 15 minutes, New Zealand saw more of the play in the second quarter. They equalised through an Immad Butt blunder. A New Zealand attack saw the ball apparently well in control of Butt in the mid circle; only to be beautifully stolen by Hayden Phillips who then easily put it in.
Half Time: 1-1
After the net minder Amjad Ali had affected two brilliant saves off New Zealand’s second PC, Pakistan got a PC off their own. The rebound hit a defender’s body on the line resulting in a penalty stroke. Immad Butt’s fast and well directed flick found the right inside netting of the goal.
New Zealand again made it all even withing three minutes. A long ball surprisingly reached an unmarked George Muir well inside the circle. His first attempt was well saved by Amjad who had closed in but Muir neatly availed the rebound.
Fast up and down stuff ensued and both the goal keepers were called upon a few times.
The fierce battle to get the winner continued in the last quarter and there were open play chances for either side. Amjad made an outstanding double save to see off New Zealand’s third PC.
Pakistan also couldnt make their third PC count as the two touch indirect drill failed.
New Zealand, desperately looking for the winner, now had 11 out field players. It paid as they had their fourth PC in the 57th minute. It hit rusher’s foot but the umpire waved an advantage. Ball reached Marcus Child near the goal, and he first timed to get the winner (which eventually carried them into the final).
In last couple of minutes, Pakistan twice came close to scoring via long balls into the scoring zone. First Ajaz and then Umar Bhutta, failed to get their sticks on the ball.
New Zealand: 3 Pakistan: 2
Pakistan: Umar Bhutta (6′) & Immad Butt (35′)
New Zealand: Hayden Phillips (18′), George Muir (38′) & Marcus Child (57′)
Later, Australia demolished Japan 6-1 to finish with perfect nine points.
On Sunday, Australia play New Zealand in the final while Pakistan face Japan in the 3rd place match.
Both New Zealand and Japan finished with four points but the Black Sticks qualified for the final because of better goal difference.
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