Canada’s men’s field hockey team dropped its final game of the 2016 Azlan Shah Cup, a 3-1 loss in a re-match with Pakistan, Saturday in Ipoh, Malaysia.
With the loss, Canada places 6th – in line with where it was ranked among the teams in the tournament – but likely below expectations from the coaches and players, who have proved in recent history they are capable of punching above their weight.
Having played earlier in the tournament, when Pakistan won 3-1, the teams were familiar with each other heading into Saturday’s match and with p5th place on the line, the game was very calculated to start.
Neither team was able to get past the other’s strong defensive shape early in the first quarter.
The first real chance of the game came on a Pakistani set piece in the eleventh minute after Ajaz Ahmad went for a run down the right side and into the circle before playing the ball into a Canadian foot for the game’s first penalty corner.
The corner seemed to be misplayed, with the stopper having the ball go through his legs, but the ball was quickly moved to the outside to Fareed Ahmed, who turned and let go of a hard hit that beat Antoni Kindler – who started in goal for Canada – to give Pakistan the all important first goal.
Kindler was tested again at the end of the quarter, but made a strong save on a deflection in the final minute.
Canada had a positive start to the second quarter, with strong spells of possession through the midfield led by captain Scott Tupper who stepped up to distribute the ball.
In the 18th minute, Tupper found Sukhi Panesar at the top of the Pakistani circle. Panesar turned and fired but the shot was blocked.
Pakistan added to its lead in the 27th minute, when a seemingly harmless play up the field turned dangerous as Ahmad was fed a great ball across the Canadian goal and redirected by Kindler for the 2-0 lead.
With their backs against the wall, the Canadians came alive in the final few minutes of the first half.
First, in the 28th minute, Devohn Noronha-Teixeira took advantage of some time and space in the middle of the pitch and hammered a low, hard sweep into the Pakistani circle. The ball bounced to Richard Hildreth who tried to put it across Pakistani keeper Imran Butt’s body, but the veteran netminder made the save.
Then, in the final minute of the half, Tupper delivered a backhand pass from midfield to Mark Pearson at the top of the Pakistan circle. Pearson, who had scored on his backhand earlier in the tournament, let go of another attempt but was also stopped by Butt.
The momentum was nearly stopped at the start of the second half, but David Carter – who came in to play the second half in goal for Canada – made a reflex save on tournament leading goal-scorer Muhammad Qadir, who was at the end of a nice passing play in the Canadian circle in the 48th minute.
A few minutes later, Canada finally got on the board when, after moving the ball quickly up the field, Gabriel Ho-Garcia found Taylor Curran at the top of the Pakistani circle. Curran quickly unleashed a back hand shot to the near post which was deflected in by Iain Smythe to bring Canada within one in the 51st minute.
Canada kept pressing for the next several minutes, but Pakistan stayed composed defensively and eventually went back on the offensive earning a corner in the 57th minute. Mummad Arshad flicked the ball to Carter’s stick-side and past the Canadian keeper to restore the two-goal lead on the way to the 3-1 win.