pakistan hockey, asian games 2010, asian games hockey, salman akbar, pakistan hockey federation

Goalkeeper Salman Akbar (R) of Pakistan saves a goal against South Korea in their field hockey semi-final match. -Photo by AFP

GUANGZHOU: Goalkeeper Salman Akbar made two crucial saves in a sudden-death penalty shootout as Pakistan knocked out defending champion South Korea 4-3 in the Asian Games men’s field hockey semifinals.

The six-foot Akbar denied Jang Jong-hyun and Yeo Woon-kon from the spot after experienced Sohail Abbas had missed one for Pakistan. Haseem Khan converted from the spot to book Pakistan’s first berth in an Asian Games final in 20 years.

The score was locked 1-1 at the end of regulation, and neither team produced a winner in extra time. It was at 3-3 after first round of penalty strokes.

“It was the most nerve-racking international match I have ever played,” Akbar, veteran of 300 internationals, told the Associated Press.

“I visualized pictures of my mother and father before preparing myself in today’s shootout.

“It was just because of their prayers that I managed to stop the last two.”

In regulation time both teams tried to take their chances through counterattacks instead of challenging the rival defenders.

“A semifinal is a big occasion and naturally nobody wanted to take chances,” Pakistan striker Rehan Butt, who did not feature in the shootout, said.

“I was in tears during the shootout and was just praying to the god for victory.”

In regulation time, striker Mohammad Waqas had given Pakistan a 1-0 halftime lead when he fired in an angular drive in the 22nd minute from the top of the circle.

Kang Moon-kyu equalized in the 39th minute with a deft touch in a rare South Korean attempt at goal.

Just before South Korea’s equalizer came in, Abbas failed to convert off three successive short corners. Mohammad Shafqat’s attempt in the 53rd went wide.

South Korea also had its opportunities in the extra time, but Jang missed the 75th minute short corner.

India was playing Malaysia in the semifinal later Tuesday. India had a 3-2 win over Pakistan in the group stage of the tournament.

“No matter against whom we play, now we have just gold in our minds,” Butt said. -AP