Hockey team received hero’s welcome

Sports Desk

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan hockey team was given a hero’s welcome on their arrival in Lahore on Sunday following their silver medal finish at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where they narrowly lost in the final to a defensively stoic Japanese side on penalties.
Pakistan remained unbeaten en route to the final but were left ruing their missed opportunities in the final where Japan came from behind and floored them in a penalty shootout.
Japan had taken an early lead but Roelant Oltmans’ side came back strongly with two goals in three minutes, only to relinquish their advantage before falling apart in the shootout. Upon arrival at Lahore, the team was greeted by a huge crowd, who presented the silver medalists’ with garlands and bouquets at the airport.
Some fans were also seen holding placards and banners congratulating the team for their achievement against all odds.
The hockey team was greeted at the airport by Chairman Prime Minister Youth Program Rana Mashhood, former Pakistan head coach Khawaja Junaid, HEC Director Javed Memon, former Olympian Akhtar Rasool, Shahbaz Senior and their family members.
Upon the team’s return, Rana Mashhood said that Pakistan’s youth had reconnected with the national sport due to the performance of the hockey side.
“We lost the match on penalty strokes otherwise these boys were unbeaten,” he said adding that the future of the sport had revived in the country.
Mashhood also announced a prize of Rs1 million to each player on behalf of the premier, adding that the prime minister will meet the national team at Prime Minister’s House.
“The government of Pakistan will support them in future events, and the premier has called them over to PM House. Their services and efforts will be appreciated and rewarded accordingly,” he said.
Pakistan’s Cinderella run
In a closely fought final a day before, Japan dominated early on with quick attacking moves and got their reward in the 12th minute when Seren Tanaka made the breakthrough. Pakistan sprang into action and started the second half with more purpose, probing the Japanese defence.
Ajaz Ahmed found the leveller when he was the quickest to react to a rebound in the 34th minute and Pakistan were celebrating again soon after when Abdul Rehman put the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs to give his side the lead.
The twin strikes seemed to have rocked Japan but they regained their composure and Kazumasa Matsumoto’s effort brought parity with 13 minutes to go.
It set up an interesting finale as both sides pressed for the winner, only to see the match go down to penalties.
After the final had ended 2-2 in regulation time, Japan prevailed 4-1 in the shootout for their maiden Azlan Shah Cup crown.
Roelant Oltmans said his side should have won the match in normal playing time.
“There were so many opportunities for us to get back and increase the score in our favour. In the first half we did great and also in the second half we created so many opportunities,” he told reporters after the game.
Pakistan’s next feature at the FIH Nations Cup in Poland begins later this month, and Oltmans said he hopes his side can go one better at the upcoming tournament.
“If you are in the final you must win the final,” he added.