LAHORE - Pakistan and Japan played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in their Pool A encounter at the Hero Asia Cup 2017 held at Maulana Bhashani National Hockey Stadium, Dhaka on Friday.

According to Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) spokesman, goals for Pakistan were scored by M Arslan Qadir (16th minute) and M Umar Bhutta (50th minute) while Kenta Tanaka (22th minute) and Heita Yoshihara (29th minute) scored for Japan. Both the teams started the match aggressively as they looked to get the lead early on, however, the defence was solid in the first quarter for either team which saw them end the first quarter goalless. However, the second quarter saw three goals being scored as Pakistan were awarded a penalty corner in the 16th minute which was well converted through some lovely team-work. Captain M Irfan flicked the ball fiercely towards M Arslan Qadir, who then deflected the ball towards the goal to give Pakistan the lead.

However, Japan made a comeback into the match as they produced two field goals to take a 2-1 lead going into half-time. First, it was Kenta Tanaka, who scored Japan’s first goal of the match as he ran into the box with the ball, beat two defenders and shot at goal which was saved by Pakistan’s goalkeeper Mazhar Abbas, but Tanaka was quick to score off the rebound in the 22nd minute. The second goal for Japan was scored by Heita Yoshihara, who picked up the ball on the right flank, cut inside and sent the ball past Pakistan’s goalkeeper Mazhar Abbas into the back of the net in the 29th minute.

Japan showed some good defensive skills in the third quarter to keep out Pakistan’s efforts of equalizing the scores as the teams finished the third quarter with the scores 2-1 in Japan’s favour. But it was the fourth quarter where Pakistan really stepped up their attacking efforts as they looked to get the all important equaliser.

With 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Pakistan’s M Arslan Qadir picked up the ball and dribbled past the Japanese defenders parallel to the baseline and passed the ball in front of the goal which was tapped in by M Umar Bhutta in the 50th minute to equalise the scores at 2-2. Both the teams continued to put their opposition under pressure and put the defenders to test, however, neither team were able to make effective forays as the game ended in a 2-2 draw.

Pakistani skipper M Irfan expressed his disappointment on splitting the points with Japan. “We are not satisfied with our performance. Though we got a good start, we did not do well in certain areas. Our right penetration on part of the forward-line was not up to the mark today and I also feel there is lack of team work and communication amongst our players. Going into our next match, these are the areas we need to rectify. I believe we need to leave this match behind us and not continue to be disappointed but ensure we comeback strongly in the tournament.”

Japanese coach Siegfried Aikman said: “This was a match we should have won. The injury to our defender was a big blow because Pakistan used that situation well and from our side there was a bit of a gap created because of his absence. Though I am happy with how the team played, I am not happy with the result. Now it comes down to the match between Indian and Pakistan and if Pakistan loses then we would still stand a chance to make the Super 4s.” Now Pakistan will play against arch-rivals India tomorrow (Sunday) while Japan will take on hosts Bangladesh on the same day.