KARACHI: Pakistan crossed their first hurdle towards World Cup qualification yesterday, reaching the semi-finals of the must-win Asia Cup tournament after a convincing 4-1 victory against Malaysia in a tough Group A encounter in Ipoh.
Having run riot against Japan 7-0 in their opener, Pakistan continued their run, overcoming the hosts – backed by a good number of home supporters – despite conceding the lead.
The opening stages of the match saw an exchange of attacks till the home team struck in a 27th minute penalty-corner through M Razie.
However, Pakistan rejuvenated themselves to level the score three minutes before half-time with Mohammad Zubair’s strike.
The second half was dominated by the greenshirts who scored three goals at regular intervals to seal the important win.
Dilbar Hussain and Mohammad Waqas scored for Pakistan while their last goal came after a clever hit by Mohammad Irfan from long range took a touch from the Malaysia goal-keeper before going in.
With back-to-back wins, Pakistan lead Group A and are scheduled to meet minnows Chinese Taipei tomorrow in their last group fixture.
Win crucial in title hunt: coach
Although the home team is a few places behind in the world rankings, Pakistan coach Tahir Zaman termed the win over Malaysia crucial for its chances.
“It has doubled the team’s confidence,” Zaman told The Express Tribune from Ipoh after the win.
“Malaysia have proved themselves to be tough opponents especially at home. It was a high-pressure game and given that fact, I am delighted with this win.
“It was very important for us to defeat Malaysia to lift our morale for the remainder of the tournament.
“We are already in the semi-finals. Our real test will be the game against India or South Korea – our likely opponents – and this win will help us in that crunch battle.”
The former Olympian also expressed satisfaction on the team’s performance so far.
“I am happy to see an improvement in all departments especially in defence and attack. Yes, we missed a couple of opportunities against Malaysia but the ratio has decreased.”
Pakistan must avoid bad patches: Samiullah
Legendary Olympian Samiullah Khan was content with the win over Malaysia, but he warned the team of being complacent.
“Pakistan showed an improvement from their game against Japan,” stated Samiullah.
“They used wingers which is a big plus for us. I am happy with the overall performance so far.
“But I will suggest the team to be on its toes throughout the event. This tournament is very important for the survival of our hockey.
“The crucial games are yet to come and we will have to avoid bad patches during the match.”