KARACHI: Ajaz Ahmed scored three goals to help Pakistan win bronze medal in the 2017 Asia Cup after they outplayed South Korea 6-3 at Maulana Bhasani Hockey Stadium in Dhaka on Sunday. The tempo wasn’t very fast in the first quarter and there were only a few circle penetrations and shots on the goal. In the 10th minute, Ajaz showing superb opportunism, cashed in on a crush ball sent from the Korean side by skipper Mohammad Irfan, deflecting into the goal with a soft touch. The pace picked up. Korea equalised in the 15th minute courtesy Azfar Yaqoob’s blunder, who inexplicably lost the ball just inside Pakistan’s circle. Cho Sook Hun capitalised with a strong hit. Soon, Pakistan had their first penalty corner. Misunderstanding at top led to the ball go out of the circle. But Ali Shan’s pass from left was well received by veteran Rashid Mehmood at the circle’s top. His powerful flat reverse hander struck the left corner of the goal and Pakistan were back in the front.
Very next minute, goalkeeper Mohammad Amjad made a spectacular diving save off a ferocious Korean back hander. In the last minute of the first half, Ajaz extended Pakistan’s advantage. The youngster sprinted into the circle. After beating the goalkeeper and the last defender with a lovely 1-2 with Atiq Arshad, Ajaz pushed the ball in to make it 3-1. The green shirts didn’t take the foot of the gas after the resumption. Abubakr converted the second PC with a flick past the Korea net minder’s left shoulder into the top netting. In the 36th minute, it was 5-1 and irrepressible Ajaz had completed his hat-trick.
Receiving a good pass from Tasawwar Ahmad in his own half, Ajaz ran like a hare. On entering the circle, he beautifully side stepped the defender who had caught up with him. Then he wrong footed the goal keeper and sent the ball into the goal, both in a single action; later declared goal of the match. Undaunted by the scoreline of 1-5, the Koreans opted for an offensive approach. After missing a couple of chances, they managed to get their second goal. A measured pass from just outside the circle reached Lee Namyong, surprisingly left unmarked in the middle of the scoring zone. Lee deflected the ball into the cage with a deft touch.
With a three-goal cushion, Pakistan began the last quarter with good possession hockey. They made circle penetrations and also had a couple of attempts. However, Korea again came back well applying good pressure. Having wasted two back to back penalty corners, they availed the third PC via a good two-touch drill. Ball was pushed to Soo Inwoo in the middle of left side of circle, who deflected in with a flat sick. It was 3-5 but only five minutes left. Now, Pakistan went on attack. Abubakr blasted a PC over the bar and Atiq, after a good solo run, made a poor attempt. They managed to make it a tennis score. Rashid, burst inside from left. His attempt after a 1-2 came off the right pole. Off the rebound, Azfar Yaqoob easily flicked in. Koreans had two PCs in the last minute but couldn’t go past the rock solid goalkeeper.
After the match, Pakistan captain Muhammad Irfan said: “We wanted to finish at least on the third place when we came to play the tournament and beating South Korea in the third-place match with this margin is an achievement for the team. The boys did overcome their mistakes and helped the team finish third.” Irfan added that they got a lot of positives out of the event and if they continue to perform like this, they would soon be able to vie for the top spot in Asia. “India and Malaysia are two of the top teams in Asia, but if we keep on putting in the hard yards then soon we will be the top team in Asia,” he said.