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September 23, 2000
Malaysia hold Pak 2-2The Rediff Team
Unfancied Malaysia pulled off a huge upset when it held Pakistan to a 2-2 draw in a Pool A game of the men's hockey event at the Hockey Centre in Sydney.
Pakistan, with 5 points out of three games thanks to an 8-1 win against Great Britain and draws against Canada (2-2) and Germany (1-1), badly needed to win to stay in the hunt for a semifinal berth. What it got instead was a rude shock, as Malaysia, perhaps the weakest attack in the pool (the Malaysians had 3 shots at goal in 3 matches going into this one) led them twice in the game before Pakistan, with a goal in the final minute of play, escaped with a face-saving draw.
The game saw Pakistan continue its now-up, now-down campaign in this Olympics, where it has switched between the brilliant and the bizarre with no telling which comes when.
Malaysia took control of the match right from the start, and when Pakistan forced a corner in the 9th minute, it was in fact against the run of play. Sohail Abbas, perhaps the most feared striker, cracked one goalwards at the rate of knots -- and watched in surprise as the Malaysian goalkeeper produced a blinding save.
From then on, the Malaysians made most of the running. Atif Bashir, on the fast break, twice gave the Malaysian defence food for thought with two tries, one off a lovely solo run and again, when he deflected a diagonal pass goalwards to give the Malaysian goalkeeper another chance to show off his skills.
Pakistan was giving up possession too easily, concentrating on displays of skill while the Malaysian defence, which showed a commendable ability to stay cool and work in pairs, consistently dispossessed the Pakistan forwards near the danger zone, then pushed forward to launch their forwards on breakaway runs.
Malaysia broke the deadlock in the 21st minute, scoring through Ibrahim Suhaimi who latched onto a ball that heading past the right post, and with a diving deflection guided it past the surprised Pak goalie.
The Pakistanis retaliated in the 24th minute, with Atif Bashir slamming home after a fine move by the Pakistan forward line on the break. The two teams were locked 1-1 at the breather.
The second half was a reprise of the first, with the Malaysians yet again getting the better of the exchanges. Malaysia forced the first penalty corner of the second half, and its second overall, in the 51st minute of the match, but a weak shot wasted that opportunity.
In the 63rd minute, however, another fine move down the middle saw three Pakistan defenders unfairly checking the Malaysian forward, cueing the referee to whistle for the penalty. Ibrahim Suhaimi converted with a fierce hit all along the ground, and Malaysia were back in the lead 2-1.
With just over six minutes to go, Pakistan produced some of its best moves of the match. Atif Bashir yet again found the Malaysian goal-keeper impossible to beat, despite a neat run into the D and an on-target shot. Almost immediately thereafter, Pakistan forced a penalty corner, and again, off an uppish flick by Sohail Abbas, the Malaysian goalie produced an electric save.
A defender's attempt to clear off the save, however, produced yet another penalty corner for Pakistan, and this time, with just 34 seconds left in the match, Abbas converted.
Pakistan can only blame itself for its current plight -- in today's game, it got six tries on goal as against Malaysia's 2, but managed to convert only one, thanks mainly to the over-indulgence by the Pak forwards in schmaltzy stickwork. Both teams had four penalty corners apiece, and both sides converted one each -- which again is a bit of a comedown for Sohail Abbas, Pakistan's ace in that department.
Pakistan now have 6 points with just one match to play, against the defending champions Netherlands.
The Netherlands and Germany head the table with 7 points apiece, and will play each other in a while from now. Irrespective of the result of that encounter, those two sides will remain ahead of Pakistan on points.
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