SportsHockey World Cup
Pakistan now face the Aussie test (Preview)
New Delhi, March 7 (IANS) It cannot be more punishing for a team to fight the best when it is going through its worst phase. Four-time champions Pakistan’s World Cup campaign has gone horribly wrong, and call it fate that they have to stand up to the toughest opponents in Pool B — Australia — in their last league encounter Monday.
It appears to be a tough ask for the crestfallen Pakistani team against the title favourites after their shocking loss to South Africa, with the 3-4 scoreline belying the domination of the African side.
In another pool match, England will take on Olympic silver medallists Spain. European champions England have already booked a semi-final berth after four victories on the trot.
Collecting nine points from four outings, Australia also look more or less certain to make the semis, with a 21-5 goal difference. Theoretically, however, their nearest rivals Spain – on six points – have an outside chance to make the grade if they can spank England by a huge margin and Pakistan beat the Kookaburras.
But even if the Aussies lose, it could be too much to expect a big Spanish victory over England, by far the most consistent performer in the tournament along with the Netherlands.
The mathematical probabilities notwithstanding, all eyes will be again on Pakistan, who are from the subcontinent.
Pakistan are aware there will be no freebies on offer against Australia.
The two teams had a similar start but followed different courses as the World Cup reached the weekend.
Pakistan could never recover after losing their first match to India. They managed well to beat Spain in their second outing, but were outplayed by England and the worst came against minnows South Africa.
In fact, Pakistan can take a cue from the South Africans who romped to their most memorable performance in the World Cup, only 48 hours after they walked out of the turf fighting back tears with the scoreboard reading 0-12 in the game against Australia.
Pakistan will have to show the same character and not allow Australia steamroll them.
Australia, on the other hand, stung by England in the opening match, bounced back like a champion side, winning against India, South Africa and Spain.
The runners-up of the last two editions Australia, coached by legendary Ric Charlesworth, have been a treat to watch with a free-flowing forward line and an impregnable defence at their disposal.
Pakistan’s penalty corner expert Sohail Abbas has been a pale shadow of his past, their talismanic striker Rehan Butt has looked unimpressive and the lapses in defence glaring.
A dejected Pakistani coach Shahid Ali Khan was at a loss of words to explain Pakistan’s poor show in the tournament.
“This is the worst I have seen Pakistan play, both as player and as coach. I have never faced such defeat (against South Africa) even during my playing days,” said Shahid Ali Khan.
“We were never the tournament favourites. We came here to improve our rankings, but I never expected such a result,” he said.
Pakistan will do well to stop brooding about the past results and take it as an opportunity to redeem themselves and make sure they do not slide from the sixth position they finished in the previous edition.
–Indo-Asian News Service
( 552 Words)