Though the match ended in a 2-2 draw, I think that Pakistan’s performance against England today was an improvement from its opening encounter against Malaysia. True that England took the lead and Pakistan had to come back to equalize, but one must take into account that England are ranked number four, while Pakistan number five in world hockey. England fielded star players Ashley Jackson, and Barry Middleton upfront while seasoned defenders Adam Dixon and Richard Smith were also in the squad. England GK George Pinner was a decisive factor in the result as he stood like a mountain between the Pakistani attack and the English goal. Were it not for Pinner, the result would have definitely been in Pakistan’s favour.
1. PAK GK Imran Butt who was substituted in the second half for Imran Shah was simply superb under the bar. He saved a direct penalty flick and then brought off an immediate reactionary save off the rebound, which is indeed quite extraordinary. Pad work was also consistent. ImranB should now feature as the first choice GK for Pakistan instead of ImranS.
2. Pakistan’s forward line was in attacking mode right from the start. This is a good sign and should continue. Attack is the best form of defence, and an early lead or a high margin in the first half combined with solid possession in the second is what wins games. At no stage in this tournament can Pakistan afford to be defensive.
3. Short passes were seen as a penetration tactic. Forward line moving in cohesion, and making short exchanges to beat the opposing England defence was visible, though not consistently. In future games short passes by pushes rather than long hits should be emphasized.
1. Centre half was not visible as a link between defence and attack and as a schemer or distributor of the ball.
2. Defenders have been poor at marking opponents. Midfielders were also absent to support defenders in deep defence. On a number of occasions England’s wingers were able to send crosses, which passed easily in front of the Pakistani goal, not picked up by defenders and luckily not finding English sticks as connections. Pakistani midfielders or inside forwards should retreat in deep defence when their team is under attack and not leave their full backs without support.
3. It is noticeable that occasionally Pakistani midfielders suddenly come to a stop while they are moving with the ball and then start to run horizontally across the pitch leaving their positions. This breaks the momentum of a move and should be checked. Once the ball is with a mid fielder, he should release it at the earliest to the forward line, and not hang on it for a long period of time. It was observed that midfielders were simply unable to get the ball outside their own half and to the wingers or inside forwards on many occasions.
4. Pakistani midfielders were seen making some very basic mistakes such as not passing accurately to their team mates and poor stopping, all signs that their skills are not honed properly.
5. Forward line missed a lot of scoring opportunities. On a number of occasions shots at goal from top of the circle were off mark or saved by the GK. Goal scoring is an area were we need improvement, though, as I said, credit should also be given to England GK George Pinner.
6. Out of the four penalty corners gained in today’s game, Pakistan converted two. Once again Muhammad Imran’s carpet push was seen as a consistent tactic. Though it has a lot of power, if he uses this continuously, opposing teams will pick it up in their video analysis, hence some variation in penalty corner routines is needed.
7. Full width of the pitch is under utilized by Pakistan. Wingers should be harnessed, and should be instrumental in the attacking formation along with inside forwards.
Pakistan are in a do or die stage of the tournament. The time for coaching or changing habits is not during an important event but prior to it in coaching camps. Still, management needs to revisit the game in a video session and take on learning points. If all goes well, then expect fast, attacking hockey from Pakistan in the next match featuring short passes and artistic stick work.