Game On: Remembering Pakistan’s wonder years in hockey
Since its inception, Pakistan has been an extremely passionate sporting nation. Our players overcame the lack of resources quite well to win laurels for their country.
At the Olympics in Rome in 1960, Pakistan won the gold medal for the first time because of Naseer Bunda’s game changing goal. This is when Pakistan was finally able to break through the stranglehold and constant winning spree that India had maintained on the gold medal in the Olympics.
This was a sport that was enthusiastically followed by our nation and hockey players of the yesteryears were as popular as our national heroes.
Pakistan’s second gold medal came at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
To reach Olympic glory for the third time, Pakistan had to wait for 16 years; it was at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that Pakistan’s national anthem was heard again at the Olympic stadium.
The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), before the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, chalked out an elaborate program to prepare our hockey team for the Olympics. On the invitation of the PHF, 12 Olympians took part in training and preparing the team after which they left for the Olympic games carrying the nation’s hopes on their shoulders.
The arena of field hockey is made up of 12 teams which were divided in two groups. Pakistan was placed in group B along with Holland, New Zealand, Great Britain, Kenya and Canada.
Surprisingly, Pakistan’s ride to the semi-final of Olympics was not as smooth as expected.
Pakistan played exceptionally well against Holland and earned a draw. However, they lost their lead to another draw against New Zealand. During the pool matches, Pakistan defeated the low-ranked Canada and Kenya, but managed only a draw against tougher opponents like Great Britain, Holland and New Zealand.
In those days, two points were awarded for each victory. With seven points in five matches, Pakistan sneaked into the semi-finals at the expense of Holland. Pakistan and Great Britain both qualified for the semis from group B and were joined by Australia and West Germany from group A.
Pakistan was pitted against the strong Australian line up in the semi-final.
Australians were the firm favourites as they played much better hockey in the pool stages of the tournament and had also beaten Pakistan seven times in various meetings since 1982.
This was the first tournament I followed enthusiastically from start till end.
Reverting back to the match, the Pakistani team came out with the plan to start on the defensive; they were probably working on the formula that an attack is the best form of defence.
Pakistan earned a short corner in the early stages of the first half and the ball was deposited at the back of the net by Qasim Zia’s rasping shot. However, the goal was disallowed as the ball struck high on the net.
In a counter attack, Australia earned a penalty corner but Davies’s shot was smartly blocked by our goal keeper, Moinuddin. Australia had an open chance in the 16th minute off the match but once again Moinuddin was Pakistan’s saviour and tackled Terry Walsh inside the striking circle.
Australia earned a short corner in the 20th minute, full back Davies drove a shot at Pakistan’s goal which was again blocked by the goal keeper and half back Ayaz Mahmood pounced on the ball and drove it to Hassan Sardar, our enigmatic centre forward, who was waiting at the centre line.
Because of the short corner’s drill, Australia showed gaps in the deep defence. Hassan using all his experience and skills to tackle the defence, was at the top of striking circle with only the goal keeper to beat and with a striking shot from the top of circle, he managed to outdo the Australian goal keeper and give his team a crucial lead in this knock out match.
The lead Pakistan took in the 22nd minute was a definite game changer and Australia, with all its efforts in open play and through penalty corners, was unable to cope, eventually losing the match.
Commenting on the semi-final, the manager of the Pakistani team, Brigadier (Retired) M H Atif said,
It was a day on which youth prevailed over experience.
Pakistan gained a lot of heart from this victory and now the team and the whole nation were hoping to overcome the final hurdle and achieve glory.
The final was played on August 11 and this was Pakistan’s sixth Olympic final. The West Germans were menacing in the initial part of the match and Pakistan was a bit jittery.
No team was able to score in the first half. Pakistan was now looking more settled and both teams were making threatening inroads.
In the 47th minute of the match, Michael Peter scored for Germany through the penalty corner. Pakistan went in search of an equaliser and Hasan Sardar, once again, proving to be Pakistan’s saviour scored from the top of the circle on a penalty corner awarded in the 53rd minute of the match.
Both teams tried to break the stalemate but to no avail and the match was given extra time. As the extra time began, the West Germans became slower whereas the Pakistani players were still full of energy.
The moment to savour came in the first period of extra time when on the tenth penalty corner, Kaleemullah scored to give Pakistan a 2-1, a score which remained unchanged till the end of the match.
In my point of view, Kaleemullah’s goal which gave Pakistan victory in the final was one of the last moments of Pakistan’s Golden era in hockey - but what a moment it was.
Pakistan had now been crowned the Olympic champions for the third time and this title was just an icing on the World cup and Asian game titles which the team won in India in 1982.
Sadly this was the last occasion that Pakistan’s national anthem was played at the Olympics.
Pakistan’s hockey has been on the decline since then.
Although we perform well in patches, and we have also won a couple of major tournaments, but on most occasions our performance is patchy with no light glowing at the end of tunnel.
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