For the first time in the history of the sport, the Pakistan men’s hockey team has failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics after losing their 5th-6th position match against Ireland 1-0 in the Hockey World League Semifinals at Antwerp, Belgium on Friday.
After Ireland’s Alan Sothern converted a penalty corner in the 46th minute, the team adopted defensive tactics, thereby knocking Pakistan out of the Olympics.
Pakistan’s hockey woes in recent times have only compounded. The team was not able to qualify for the Hockey World Cup as well. This was very strange for a team that has won the Olympic gold thrice.
Very much like the Pakistani cricket team, the country’s men’s hockey team is known for being unpredictable on the field. However, they are also known for their mercurial style in the game, much like their neighbours India. Both the countries have won gold medals in the sport over a dozen times but are now struggling to keep pace with the likes of Australia, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
It was actually the replacement of grass with synthetic turf in the late 1960s that saw the demise of these Asian hockey superpowers. Players in the subcontinent could not adjust to the speed of European players on astro-turf.
Even now, there aren’t enough astro-turf stadiums in either India or Pakistan to aid the growth of hockey on a world level. Only when a player gets selected in the national team does he get the chance to gain enough experience on astro-turf.
It is indeed striking to know that a relatively small city of Amsterdam in Netherlands alone has over 40 astro-turf stadiums spread across the capital.
While Pakistan have now officially failed to qualify for Rio, their neighbours India had already sealed a spot when they beat them in the gold medal match of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
India are due to face hosts Belgium in the last four stage of the Hockey World League semifinals later on Friday and have thus, secured their spot in the final stage of the world tournament. India had anyhow qualified for the finals on the basis of being hosts for the last stage of the Hockey World League to be held later this year.