The best ever team or the finest performance by a team is often a favourite topic among lovers and historians of a sporting discipline. The Brazilian soccer side in the 1970 World Cup, the American basketball ‘dream team’ of the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, and the Australian cricket team of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups are often heralded as the finest of their respective sports. When it comes to hockey, it has to be the Pakistan team at the 1982 World Cup.
But Pakistan’s road to winning the World Cup for a third time was far from a smooth one, so it is worth narrating their campaign in full.
From the 1978 World Cup until early 1981, Pakistan had been on a winning spree, lifting the trophy in all the six tournaments they had participated in. These included the 1978 World Cup itself in Argentina, the 1978 Asian Games in Thailand and the first two editions of the Champions Trophy, both in Pakistan. All this time, however, the Pakistan team also remained in transition and when the side for the 1981 Champions Trophy was announced, it had just five players from the 1978 World Cup squad.
The greatest regret for the Pakistani players and fans alike was country’s non-participation in the 1980 Olympics due to the boycott against the hosts, the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan were in magnificent form at that time. After watching their splendid run to victory in the second Champions trophy in early 1980, all the hockey pundits remarked that the Olympic gold was there for Pakistan’s taking. Fate thought otherwise.
The year 1981 arrived. On the eve of the third Champions trophy in January, the greatest pair of full-backs in Pakistan’s history – Manzoorul Hassan and Munawwaruz Zaman (who was the captain as well) – were shown the door. The side had a new skipper in the great centre-half Akhtar Rasool. What ensued in the third Champions Trophy, in Karachi for the second time, was a real jolt to the World Champions. Pakistan failed to win its first ever tournament at either the senior or junior level, since the 1976 Olympics. They did not even make the podium, finishing fourth.
There was a lot of hue and cry over the setback in all the circles. The president of Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), Air Marshal (retired) Nur Khan’s took all the responsibility himself and at the same time was not too unhappy over the defeat. Nur Khan opined that success had led to complacency and a wakeup call would serve as a stimulus for the PHF to weed out problems well in time for the 1982 World Cup.
The selection committee resigned. And good sense prevailed, as the PHF hierarchy admitted the folly of omitting both the fortresses of deep defence simultaneously – they recalled the right full-back Manzoorul Hassan.
Former skipper, the great full-back Muneer Dar was appointed the manager. The team won a minor tournament in Singapore and then embarked on a tour of Europe. The squad included a player who was destined to make an indelible mark on hockey’s history. Centre forward Hassan Sardar.
Results-wise, the European tour was not successful as Pakistan failed to win either of the two four nation tournaments in Germany and Holland. The only success was a low profile event in Poland.
During the tour, manager Munir Dar’s somewhat rude behaviour didn’t endear him to some senior players and was sacked, on return.
Dar was replaced by that shrewdest of the hockey brains, Brigadier (retired) Manzoor Hussain Atif, who was also the sitting secretary general of the PHF. Another former Olympian, Khawaja Zakauddin was inducted as the coach.
Atif, who had also managed the gold medal winning Pakistan side at the 1968 Olympics (and was later destined to do the same at the 1984 Olympics), took up the task in full earnest. Keeping in view the humid conditions of the World Cup’s venue —India’s Bombay (now Mumbai), the coastal city of Karachi was chosen for the training camp.
Atif also sought the guidance and assistance of many former Pakistani stalwarts in coaching of the camp trainees.These included such respectable names as goalkeeper Qazi Waheed (Olympian), Saeed Anwar (Pakistan’s finest right-half), Khalid Mahmood (legendary right winger), utility player Jehangir Butt (Olympic gold medallist and World Cup winner), among others, to work in the different areas. After the rigorous corrective-cum-physical conditioning-cum-match practice phase the last stage of the training began about six weeks before the World Cup.
As before the last World Cup in 1978, a home-and-away four test series against India was arranged. The series went to the wire and Pakistan won the last test to emerge victorious by two matches to one, with one game drawn.
More importantly, the management gave exposure to a number of players and various combinations were tried, especially in the forward line. The first choices for positions, such as Hassan Sardar /Naeem Tahir for centre forward and Saeed Khan/Khalid Hameed/Sanaullah for the slot of the reserve left-side forward could also be assesed.
By the time, the team reached Bombay in the last days of 1981, it had evolved into a marvellous combination.
When the media asked Atif about his team’s prospects, he very confidently gave the ‘thumbs up’ sign for Pakistan. Anyone who took Atif’s claim a mere boast had their doubts removed when Pakistan came across Argentina in their opener.
The right wing pair of Kaleemullah and Manzoor Jr played havoc with the South Americans’ defence. Supported well by the right half Rasheed ul Hassan in Pakistan’s traditional right trio formation, they repeatedly carved out goal-scoring opportunities.
Still, the score line was only 1-0 at half time. That was primarily due to inexplicable complacency by centre forward Hassan Sardar and inside-left Hanif Khan, who missed gilt-edged chances.
Such was the faith of Brig Atif in his reserves that he replaced the two with Saleem Sherwani and Saeed Khan, respectively. After the interval, Pakistan cashed in more chances and ran out 6-1 winners despite wasting a penalty stroke.
Pakistan has arrived and when, in the next game, Spain employed typical European defensive tactics, Pakistan’s immense firepower meant the Spanish armada was sunk 4-1 with two goals in each half.
If Pakistan’s display in the initial two outings had caused alarm among the other contenders, the mauling of New Zealand in the next pool match sent shivers down their spines. The Kiwis, the surprise gold medallists of the 1976 Olympics, were simply sitting ducks for Pakistan, who targeted them at will, putting in no less than twelve goals. Thus they created a new World Cup record, easily erasing the previous one of nine goals in a match by a team. Hassan Sardar, now realising his talent, slammed four consecutive goals.
At the same time, credit goes to the Black Sticks too as they never abandoned their open game and managed to get three goals themselves.
Pakistan had their first real test against West Germany who stretched them to the limits. After being 0-2 down, the Germans recovered to 2-3 and then 3-4 and it was only when Samiullah scored in the 68th minute to make it 5-3 that Pakistan heaved a sigh of relief.
The game against Germany exposed Pakistan’s one weak link – goalkeeping on penalty corners. The German skipper, full-back Michael Peters, scored a hat trick of corners against custodian Moinuddin. He was denied by goal-line stops by Akhtar Rasool (twice) and Manzoorul Hassan.
Topping their pool was now guaranteed and Pakistan took it easy against Poland in the last pool game. All the reserves were employed throughout and they emerged 4-1 winners.
Having put on such an impressive show and scoring 31 goals in five games, Pakistan were now World Cup favourites.
One person who should have been the most satisfied man by now was in fact the most worried soul. He was Pakistan’s manager Atif. With the net-minder Moinuddin badly beaten on penalty corners time and again against Germany, Atif was fearful of Holland and their penalty corner king Paul Litjens – the highest scorer in a single World Cup as well as the overall top scorer in the World Cup and later the holder (for many years) of the record of the most international goals.
Atif spent the whole night before the semi-final pondering his side’s Achilles’ heel. His other goalkeeper was the 17-year-old Shahid Ali Khan, who prior to appearing in the final pool match had played less than one international game – he was sent on during Pakistan’s 11-1 victory against Zimbabwe in a test, a few months earlier.
However, Atif had been impressed by Shahid’s performance against Holland and Litjens in a practice match the Dutch played on their tour to Pakistan just before the World Cup. So to the surprise of everyone, Atif put Shahid in Pakistan’s goal.
The teenager surprised everyone by letting in only one goal from half-a-dozen penalty corners. But the moment that is still etched in everyone’s memory, who saw it, was Shahid’s sixth-minute acrobatic save from a penalty stroke taken by Ties Kruise (remember him from BBC TV’s ‘Superstars’?) – who was playing the fifth of his record six World Cups.
This single act by one of the youngest players in the World Cup, in front of 40,000 people spurred the whole Pakistan team and there was no looking back. The lynchpin in the attack that day was the inside-left Hanif. He orchestrated the Pakistan attack, repeatedly opening the gaps in the middle and slipping the ball to the other forwards.
Waves after waves of Pakistani attacks ensued and the Dutch were very lucky in the end to lose only by 2-4. The Pakistani scorers were Hanif, Kalimullah (penalty stroke), Hassan Sardar and Manzoorul Hassan (penalty corner).
Pakistan’s vintage attacking display had now made everyone agree, pundits and ordinary fans alike, that the World Cup was flying back to Pakistan and the final was a mere formality. Yet, the Pakistani contingent was in for a shock. A person no less than the President of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), Rene Frank remarked that the traditional sub-continental style based on five forwards had become out-dated and could no longer compete with the European style.
No need telling, the entire Pakistani contingent, and especially the management was stunned. However, they had full faith in their style and especially in the exponents of that school they had with them at the time.
Pakistanis answered Rene Frank in the field during the final – and in no uncertain terms.
With India not making the knock-out phase, the local crowds had become very supportive of Pakistan, seeing them as the torch bearers of the sub-continental style of play. Most of the 40,000 plus crowd in the final were backing Pakistan.
The final was one way traffic. Pakistan retained most of the possession. And had it not been for an outstanding display by the German custodian Christian Bassemir and some strange umpiring, it would have been a tennis score.
Still, surprisingly, it was West Germany who went ahead in the sixth minute through a goal by Heiner Dopp resulting from a misunderstanding between the full-back Manzoorul Hassan and goalkeeper Shahid Ali Khan. Such was Pakistan’s domination during the unforgettable fortnight, however, that even when the Germans earned a penalty corner (their only one of the final) soon after the first goal, no one watching on TV in Pakistan had the slightest doubt about the eventual outcome of the match.
Pakistan’s aggression was relentless. If the Germans tried to counterattack, they found the half line especially the pivot, skipper Akhtar Rasool the greatest obstacle. On a few occasions when they managed to break the midline, the two full-backs Manzoorul Hassan and Qasim Zia were there to put the full stop. After the first goal, Shahid Ali Khan was never troubled.
It was only a matter of time before Hassan Sardar tapped in the equaliser from a corner in the 25th minute. Hardly a minute passed when Manzoor Junior in a flash of genius scored the finest goal of the knock out rounds.
Receiving the ball near the half line, the legendary inside-right weaved patterns around the German defence and from the right side of the circle his powerful shot found the narrowest of the angles past Bassemir.
There was no respite for the Germans even after the change of the sides. The rampaging greenshirts led them to a merry dance. A Hanif effort was stopped with a foot and Kalimullah capitalised on the resulting penalty stroke.
Later, Pakistan were awarded another penalty stroke and as Kalimullah was walking up to the spot, something unbelievable happened. Succumbing to sustained pressure by the protesting Germans, the French umpire Alain Renaud reversed the decision.
Akhtar Rasool, the Pakistani skipper, took the decision very sportingly. The final score line of 3-1 did scant justice to the absolute domination of the Pakistanis in the most one sided final in the World Cup’s history.
Leaving aside the statistics and individual achievements. Pakistan put up a show which was a feast for the spectators, delight for the purists, a great advertisement for the sport of hockey and a case study for coaches.
As it had been in the whole glorious history of Pakistan hockey, their main strength lay in attack. It speaks volumes about the homework done by the management that the entire frontline peaked at the time for the biggest prize.
Right winger Kalimullah after his astounding debut in the Esanda tournament (1979) followed it by another top class performance in the second Champions Trophy (1980). But since then he had been lying low. Sometimes it even seemed his heart was not in hockey.
But at Mumbai, Kaleem’s defence splitting runs down the flank with cutting to both sides left the opponents as well as the spectators aghast. His magical play created numerous openings for the inner trio of the forwards.
The man who came, saw and conquered was none other than the ‘wizard’ Hassan Sardar. Bent on his stick, Hassan wreaked havoc with delightful dribbles and body swerves added with sublime finishes. There was no surprise when Hassan was named player of the tournament by a poll conducted by over 200 journalists.