The 37th edition of the Champions Trophy starting from June 23 is going to be the last. Let us recall Pakistan’s last victory in this event.
In 1994, the Champions Trophy returned to its birth place, Lahore. Pakistan’s hockey fortunes were at a low ebb. They had not won a major title since winning the Olympic gold in 1984. In the case of Champions Trophy, the drought spanned thirteen editions. Pakistan had not won it since 1980.
Then a few months back at the fourth Asia Cup in Hiroshima, Pakistan went through a devastation of the proportion of a nuclear explosion.
Pakistan had won all the three previous editions of Asia Cup without losing a single match. But what to talk of retaining the title, Pakistan perished in the semi-final, losing to South Korea, that too, by an unbelievable margin of 4-0, their worst-ever defeat against an Asian country.
To stop the downward slide, PHF led by its president AVM (retd) Farooq Umer started making corrective measures.
Farooq had realised that Pakistan hockey needed a modern approach. Despite vehement protests from many quarters, notably the old hockey stalwarts, Farooq had already done the unthinkable by attaching a foreign coach with Pakistan team. The fabled Dutch coach Hans Jorritsma who had guided Holland to victory in the last World Cup in 1990, had joined the Pakistan team a few months back.
A foreign physiotherapist was also hired. A video analyst was employed too.
PHF’s endeavours were not restricted to training.
There had been constant complaints from hockey players of “lack of incentive” in financial terms. This time the players were promised a win bonus for every match on three- tier system based upon seniority. PHF’s coffers were already healthy as it had recently signed separate logo deals for senior and junior national teams with two multinational soft drink companies for substantial sums.
The Champions Trophy itself was marketed in a professional manner. The TV rights were sold not only to the PTV but also the international media. The 16th Champions Trophy was beamed to about 40 countries.
A new-look Pakistan side was announced. As many as seven players were making their debut. Preceded by a lot of publicity, the tournament took off with much fan-fare.
PHF’s efforts on all the fronts bore fruit: Pakistan began a winning spree and crowds filled the National Hockey Stadium, the world’s biggest.
In their opening match Pakistan trounced the formidable Great Britain 4-1. The hosts looked a well-knit outfit and displayed a swift passing game at high pace. Spain were the next victim, Pakistan prevailing 3-1. The new character of the team was evident from one incident. Mid-way through the second half, with scores at 1-1, right in Tahir Zaman squandered a penalty stroke. Tahir immediately bounced back from the setback. Within a few minutes, he dribbled past the Spanish defence, including the goalie, to score one of the most memorable goals of the entire tournament.
Then Pakistan edged past the reigning world champions Holland 2-1; the score-line did not fully indicate the hosts’ superiority.The Green-shirts were also the superior side against Australia, winning by two goals to nil.
The final league game against Germany was a sort of a friendly international as both the sides had already qualified for the final. Yet, more than 50,000 people thronged the stadium. The Germans dominated the first half and led by a goal at the first hooter. The second half was more evenly contested and Pakistan equalised through a penalty stroke.
Pakistan had the psychological advantage before the final of finishing ahead of Germans by one point in the round robin.As anticipated, a crowd of about 70,000, including the country’s President, filled the stadium for the final.
The Germans had more of the early exchanges. The crowd was stunned when Tewes scored off a penalty corner with the ball going into the net after a deflecion from the stick of an on-rushing Pakistani player.
A titanic mid-field battle ensued. The crowd became fully alive with hooters and fire-crackers when just two minutes before the interval, a long corner taken by Shahbaz found the lanky centre-half Shafqat, unmarked at the top of the circle. He scored with a hit finding the corner of the tin.
Within four minutes of the restart, Pakistan went ahead through skipper Shahbaz. The goal was the result of an excellent one-touch move involving four players.Pakistan seemed to be in sight of lifting the magnificent trophy donated by Pakistan itself. But with just 10 minutes to go, Kun equalised from a penalty corner with a fierce reverse-stick shot. It was a very creditable effort since Germans were playing with 10 men at that moment.
There was no extra time and the match entered the drama of penalty strokes. Shahbaz Jr and Blunk flunked in the first series of penalty strokes but the other four from both the sides made no mistakes. Consequently the final match went to the dreaded sudden death penalty strokes.
The cliff-hanger finally ended with Mayerhofer putting his shot over the top to leave the Pakistan team and the jampacked stadium in ecstasy.Another gift for the Lahore crowd was the naming of local hero, the great left-half Khawaja Junaid, as the “Player of the Tournament”.
The team had a sitting with the Prime Minister, who announced a prize of 0.1 million rupees for each player.The success showed what scientific training and professional marketing and publicity can do. Much of the credit goes to the PHF president Farooq.
Pakistan’s success story did not end there. Later, the same year, Pakistan went on to win the biggest prize, the World Cup.Pakistan are ranked 13th in the world. In the coming Champions Trophy, the other five teams are placed between 1st and 6th in the FIH rankings. Pakistan should realistically hope for some respectable performance only.