Veteran penalty-corner specialist Sohail Abbas scored twice as Pakistan thrashed Japan 3-1 in the finals of a Qualifying tourney to book a berth in next year’s Hockey World Cup in India.
Pakistan joined Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Korea, Netherlands, South Africa and Spain in clinching a spot in the mega-event.
Two more spots will go to the winner of the second qualifying event, currently underway in Invercargill, New Zealand. The third qualifying event will start next week in Quilmes, Argentina.
Pakistan went on the offensive from the very start but Japanese goalkeeper Katsuya Takase thwarted their initial attempts.
After the aggressive start, Pakistan settled down and tried to take control with Waseem Ahmed making his presence felt in the midfield.
Pakistan opened the scoring through Abdul Haseem Khan in the 12th minute after a decisive run by Shakeel Abbasi.
They maintained the pressure, but Japan did not give up either and it took a penalty-corner in the 24th minute by the ever-reliable Abbas to increase the lead.
Japan reduced the gap through a clever penalty-corner by their captain Kazuhiro Tsubouchi, who flicked the ball out of reach of Salman Akbar in the Pakistani goal.
Pakistan earned a penalty-stroke early in second period but Abbas put it wide and Japan nearly tied the game on their immediate counter-attack.
The Japanese players were closing down on the Pakistani attackers, preventing them from developing a fast game, but they could not do anything when faced with another stunning penalty-corner from Abbas that shaved the crossbar.
Even with a comfortable two-goal cushion, Pakistan were not out of the woods and survived two penalty-corners and a flurry of attacks by Japanese players.
In fact the final 10 minutes were played in the defensive zone of Pakistan before the final buzzer assured them a place in the World Cup