Abbas fires Pakistan to UCD 4 Nations title

UCD 4 Nations Cup final
Pakistan 2 (Sohail Abbas 2) Ireland 1 (John Jermyn)

World record holder Sohail Abbas fired a corner double to down Ireland in the final of the UCD 4 Nations Cup on Saturday night on a memorable occasion at the National Hockey Stadium.

Scarcely will the Belfield venue host such an event with every corner of the grandstand packed out while the majority of the balcony and terrace were also filled for the final of this four nations competition.

Pakistanis resident in Dublin made their presence felt, drums and bunting abounded, raising the ante for the local support who responded in kind.

They were treated to a high tempo battle, played for the most part in bright sunshine – a far cry from Friday’s drenched affair. But while Shakeel Abbasi hit some of his best form of the tournament, it was a corner battle which carried the day.

Ireland gave up too many though the fifth of the day was debatable as David Harte’s save saw the ball appear to bounce onto a Pakistani foot before hitting an Irish one.

The goalkeeper – later to be named Player of the Tournament – had already kept out a string of corner strikes from Abbas as well as a couple from Muhammad Imran.

But he was powerless to stop the 41st minute effort which zipped in via the keeper’s glove side post. Waqas Akbar and Muhammad Zubair had two golden chances to extend the lead in the aftermath but Ireland found their feet to boss much of the third quarter.

Some sublime hockey between Joe Brennan, Chris Cargo and Mitch Darling laid on the first corner. It was well worked, John Jermyn’s in to out move creating a close range flicking chance.

It was charged down by a Pakistani body, yielding another corner. This time, the option was simpler, Jermyn dragging home for 1-1 in the 55th minute.

But the killer blow came just a few minutes later when umpired Lu Han pinged Bruce McCandless for a foot in the circle and promptly yellow carded for suggesting the ball hit his hand at the top of the stick. Abbas compounded the situation with another bullet and Ireland were playing catch-up with ten men.

It left gaps open at the back, Rehan Butt only denied by superb covering from Jermyn while Zubair boshed one close range effort wide from close range.

Pakistan attacked their way over the finish line to the delight of their support, prompting a second pitch invasion in as many days, the players mobbed and requesting photographs for half an hour after the final whistle.

It was a sight to behold, augmented by the number of children who took to the field at half-time, a decent amount with sticks in hand, offering a fine spectacle.

Afterwards, Abbas, in an interview with The Hook, paid tribute to the atmosphere produced, saying it is an event he was proud to be part of.

“I’m surprised, I didn’t realise there was this amount of Pakistanis here. Even against China, there were a lot of Irish supporting us. I really enjoyed it and I want to say good luck to the Irish this summer.

“Everyone is enjoying their hockey. In the final, the sun is shining, everyone was cheering, it didn’t matter who was winning or losing and I think hockey wins today and it’s good for Irish hockey.

“It is really nice to be here, it’s my first time. I thought it was meant to be summer but we had cold, wind, rain on Friday. Dealing with that was the most important part of the tournament.

“As far as the Ireland team is concerned, they are really improving and it’s the first time I’ve seen them playing this good and I think they’ll do something in the European Cup.”

Irish coach Paul Revington drew the positives from the week:

“We’re delighted we’ve played two games against Pakistan rather than the others which means we’ve done something right during the week. To still be close toward the end of the game means we also must have done some things right.

“We weren’t too sure if it was Dublin or Lahore. It was brilliant. For the record, we’re delighted with the IHA and UCD for putting this on and hopefully it becomes a regular thing.”

As for the concession of soft penalty corners conceded, he added that this may not be necessarily be a bad thing.

“I’ll look at the video, there were a few where we ended up questioning the umpires. Whether they were the right decisions, I’m not sure. Its live corner practice, though, and its invaluable. We try and win every game and the guys are disappointed but there is still a bigger picture and we’ve got to move on.”

David Harte, meanwhile, was named player of the tournament following a string of top drawer saves.

He told the Hook that facing down Abbas is a challenge he relishes: “First half we gave away four corners, dealt with them quite well but if you give a world class drag-flicker like Sohail Abbas as many chances, he’ll punish you. Personally, I think we defended much better on Friday night but that’s what happens sometimes in a final.

“There’s a lot of respect [when you face someone like Abbas]. But you look forward to it, it’s not every day you play against a world record holder.

“There are massive positives, coming close against Pakistan twice. We’re moving in the right direction but we know we have to go back and reflect on the losses these last two days and try and improve it.”

Ireland are back in action on Monday against China in a challenge match before facing Egypt three times before heading off to France next week for their Champions Challenge event.

UCD 4 Nations bronze medal match: China 3 (Xiaobo Guo, Yang Dong, Yixian Liu) France 2 ( Yannick Schambert, Martin Genestet)
Yixian Liu grabbed the bronze-winning golden goal as China got the better of France for the second time in two days, completing a good comeback to their week which started with a pair of losses.

France had threatened to pull off an impressive comeback, coming from two goals down to tie up the game and look the most likely winner in normal time.

But China upped their game in the extra period and should have ended the game three minutes in, Na Yubo incredibly miscuing the ball into the stratosphere from two yards from a sweetly worked move.

Just their second corner of the day proved vital three minutes from the end of extra-time. China had started in fine fashion, Xiaobo Guo whipping home an early drag-flick and were 2-0 up with a cracking effort.

Its origins were bizarre, China initially refusing to defend a penalty corner. When they did, it worked in their favour, winning possession and racing all the way forward with one cracking 70-metre pass.

Xianting Liu waited for the support run in the left corner before deftly weighting his cross to meet the incoming Yang Dong to slide into the ball, 2-0 at half-time.

The French, though, were much the better side in the second half and served enough notice before they eventually got a lifeline when Yannick Schambert flicked home following a goal-mouth scramble.

The equaliser arrived a minute later, Martin Genestet slotting neatly after he was found by a raking right-wing pass. His side had the better chances to win the game in normal time but it was the Chinese who finished stronger to take bronze.

** Photos courtesy of Rodrigo Jaramillo, more to be posted on Irish Hockey Photographers site during the week

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