Bhubaneswar: Putting their disappointing pool campaign behind, an inspired Pakistan notched up their first win over the Netherlands in 16 years, stunning the World Cup and Olympic silver medallist 4-2 to reach the semifinals of Champions Trophy hockey tournament, here on Thursday.
The 4-2 win was Pakistan's first win over the Dutch in the Champions Trophy in 12 attempts, a run dating back to 1998 edition of the tournament in Lahore.
After back-to-back wins in pool stages, the Netherlands slumped to their second straight defeat in the tournament and that too against a lower-ranked side. The
Dutch had earlier lost 2-3 against India in their final pool match on Tuesday. Surprisingly, Pakistan, who returned winless from the pool engagements, looked a completely different side today as they dominated the mighty Dutch for major part of the match.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, looked a pale shadow of themselves as they failed to take control of the match and lacked in discipline. Pakistan also had an impressive record in penalty corners today as they converted three out of the four set pieces that came their way.
However, it was the Dutch who got off to a flying start when Jeroen Hertzberger powered home a field goal in the sixth minute. Soon after, Pakistan skipper Muhammad Imran brilliantly saved a Mink van der Weerden drag-flick off the line to keep their lead intact.
Pakistan depended on counter-attacks today and their plan yielded dividends. It was Muhammad Waqas who created an opening with his brilliant work in the right wing for Muhammad Umar Bhutta (16th) and the Pakistani forward made no mistake to draw level for his side early in the second quarter.
Muhammad Rizwan Senior then drew a brilliant save from Dutch custodian Jaap Stockman but Pakistan managed to take the lead five minutes from halftime when Imran scored with a low flick from a penalty corner.
The Netherlands leveled the scores four minutes into the second half through Constantijn Jonker (39th) who neatly finished Rogier Hofman's driven cross from the right flank.
But Pakistan kept up the pressure on the Dutch goal and Muhammad Irfan pumped in two goals in quick succession in the last 10 minutes of the match to surprise their opponents.
Irfan's both goals came from penalty corner variations. He first restored Pakistan's lead in the 51st before applying the killer touch a minute later. Pakistan will now face the winners of the match between India and Belgium in the semifinals, while the Netherlands will play classification matches for fifth to eight positions.
Pakistan coach Shahnaz Sheikh is understandably a happy man and said they played their best hockey today after experimenting in the pool stages. "Our tournament started today. We played our real game today. What experimentations we had to do we did in the pool matches," Sheikh told reporters after the win.
"Before departure from Pakistan I said our target is a top four finish." Asked who he would like to face as opponent between India and Belgium in the semis, the Pakistan coach said: "Obviously, we want to play against India because this will help in reviving India-Pakistan hockey."
The Netherlands coach Max Caldas was critical of his team's display today. "We were disappointing. We lacked discipline. It didn't look like we are ready to win the game," he said.