Pragmatic, gritty Pakistan down but not out just yet

Pakistan have fought hard to remain alive with a game remaining in the Pool stages. Hockey India

Their current hockey team might be a shadow of the great teams of the past, their buildup to the tournament might have been far from ideal, their domestic game might have stagnated, but Pakistan are not done just yet.

They still haven't won either of their two matches at the Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar - a 1-1 draw with Malaysia on Wednesday was preceded by a 1-0 loss to Germany -- but by virtue of their third place in pool D, still have a fairly good shot at making the cross-over stage.

There have been few moments of brilliance, but to compensate, Pakistan have shown grit.

Unlike Malaysia, whose chances of making the next stage have been jeopardized by a 7-0 hammering in their opener, Pakistan have decided to make goal difference a priority.

Against a German side that went on to steamroll Netherlands 4-1, they conceded just a single goal. Only a late penalty corner strike - the first in five attempts converted by Malaysia - denied them a win that would have all but sealed their crossover spot.

"Accha fight diya tha (We gave them a good fight). We made a silly mistake in the last five minutes to give them the penalty corner which caused them to score but we did well until then," says Pakistan coach Tauqeer Dar.

While low-scoring matches might not seem to make for attractive hockey, Dar says it was a necessity. "We have to play according to our limitations. We have to understand that this time we are the 13th-ranked team in the tournament. We can only try and attack if we must but unless we manage our team's defense, then we have nothing," he says.

Keeping the score close for as long as they could would allow them to take their chance when they could as Atiq Arshad did, scoring Pakistan's goal nine minutes from time. "We can only survive if we prolong the match with our defense. If we keep the other team tied up, we can keep the interest in the match. The players will also remain confident that they can win the game," says Dar.

Dar is confident his side can manage to do that even in the absence of true stars and against teams rated far higher than his own. "Ek structure hota hai (There is a structure). If you keep that structure, it doesn't matter if you are the number 20th team playing the number 1 team. Lose the structure and you are gone," he says.

He explains giving the example of Holland, who lost to Germany after leading 1-0 early on. "Holland forgot their structure and look what happened to them. They conceded their second goal against Germany and then they fell apart and ended up giving four goals," says Dar.

Of course, the Pakistan coach knows that while his team has stuck to the plan in their first two games, their match against Netherlands will be as tough as it will be crucial.

Pakistan have to hope Malaysia don't win their final group match against Germany and also look to ensure that their goal difference (-1) doesn't dip below that of Malaysia (-7). They know, however, that Netherlands will be smarting from their loss to Germany and will be looking to put the hurt on them the way they did to Malaysia in their opener.

Dar admits his side will be put under sustained pressure but he believes they can handle it. "Our players know that we are in a better situation than Malaysia because we didn't lose our first game 7-0 like they did. But we also know that we have a hard match. But one thing I can guarantee is that even if Holland are going to be the favourites to win, we won't let them win that easily," he says.