**Bhubaneswar:** Malaysia (WR:12) and Pakistan (WR:13) took to the field in the day’s second Pool D match, with a 1-1 draw leaving Pakistan third in the pool, ahead of last placed Malaysia on goal-difference. However, with both sides having tough opponents in their final round of matches – Pakistan play Netherlands, Malaysia take on Germany – there is still the potential for the placings to change.
There was little to choose between the two sides in the first two quarters, with both teams having chances to take the lead but not making the most of their opportunities. Despite the lack of goals, it was certainly not short of entertainment as two attack-minded sides took each other on. Despite having conceded seven times against the Netherlands, Malaysia’s back-line showed great discipline to frustrate Pakistan’s attackers, while both goalkeepers – Malaysia veteran Kumar Subramiam and Pakistan’s Imran Butt – also impressed.
The third quarter was also scoreless, but the fourth quarter was full of excitement. Pakistan took the lead when Muhammad Atiq received a long pass from midfield before turning his marker and finding the bottom corner of the Malaysia goal. It was a strike that left Malaysia’s future in the competition very much hanging in the balance, but they hit back with five minutes left to play thanks to a superb penalty corner drag-flick from Odisha Player of the Match Faizal Saari, who sent an unstoppable effort into the top left corner to keep alive his team’s hopes of moving into the knockout stages.
Speaking after the match, Malaysia goalkeeper Kumar Subramiam said: “I think the guys played very well today. Being down one goal and then getting it back to 1-1 is not easy, so I think we did well. We know there is a big goal difference, but maybe that can change in the last round of matches.”
On Thursday 6thDecember, the final round of matches in Pool A will take place, with Spain’s Red Sticks (WR:8) facing New Zealand’s Black Sticks (WR:9) at 1700 IST (UTC +5.30) before Argentina (WR:2) play France (WR:2) at 1900. Currently, reigning Olympic champions Argentina sit at the top of the pool with six points, with New Zealand in second place on three points. Spain and France both have one point from their two games, with Spain in third place ahead of their European rivals courtesy of a superior goal difference. The pool winner will earn a direct ticket to the quarter finals, while the teams that finish second and third will go into the cross-over play-offs. The team that finishes fourth will be eliminated from the competition.
Ahead of New Zealand’s crucially important clash against Spain – two sides that sit only one place apart in the FIH Hero World Rankings, Black Sticks captain Blair Tarrant said: “We expected our pool would be very tight, and that’s the way it is playing out. Argentina will top the pool, with Spain, France and ourselves still in with a chance of sealing a spot in the cross-over matches.With that in mind, the final pool games will be critical matches for everyone.”
Looking ahead to meeting between Argentina and France, the highest and lowest ranked teams in Pool A, Los Leones Head Coach German Orozco said: “Our form went from its lowest to its highest level in the first two games, although I still believe that we are not at our best level yet. With it being the last game in the pool, it is important that we continue to grow in this competition, something that will give us even more confidence.”