World champions Australia had to sweat it out to overcome a spirited challenge from Pakistan beating them 1-0 to seal a place in the semi-finals of the men's hockey at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi today.
Unlike their other Pool A teams, the Kookaburras found Pakistan a tough nut to crack, courtesy an exemplary display from the Pakistan backline led by captain Zeeshan Ashraf.
The Pakistani defenders were ably supported by an agile custodian Imran Shah, who was outstanding under the bar. The Pakistani defence and custodian Shah worked in unison to deny the mighty Australians on numerous occasions at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
Pakistan displayed a much-improved performance in the match but failed to avenge their 1-2 World Cup loss to Australia because of poor finishing and brilliant goalkeeping from Nathan Burgers under the Australian goal.
Burgers continued his impressive showing in the tournament and saved his side on more than one occasion, the first of which came in the 17th minute when he brilliantly denied Shafqat Rasool after he was set up by a great run from Shakeel Abbasi down wide right.
Soon after that particular move, custodian Shah saved Pakistan with his agility and smart reflexes in front of the goal. However, it was Australia who got the match-winner in the 33rd minute when Chris Ciriello converted their second penalty corner with a fierce flick to the right of Shah.
At the stroke of the breather, an alert Australian goalkeeper Burgers denied Pakistan the equaliser when he palmed away fierce reverese hit from Rehan Butt taken from top of the circle to go into the breather with a 1-0 lead.
The second half turned out to be a tale of missed opportunities as both the teams mounted innumerable attacks at each other's goal but failed to utilize a single one, which eventually proved costly for Pakistan.
The Jamie Dwyer-led Australian forwardline was off-colour as barring the winner, they failed to break the stubborn Pakistani defence. The Australians also wore a sorry look in penalty corners as they converted only one out of the five they have earned in the entire 70 minutes.
In the dying moments of the match, Pakistan got a golden opportunity to drew parity when they were awarded their second penalty corner of the match but wasted it as Muhammad Imran’s flick went high over the bar.
With an all-win record in the competition, the defending champions will now take on Malaysia in an inconsequential last pool match tomorrow. Pakistan, on the other hand, will take on arch-rivals India in a must-win match with both the teams eyeing an outright victory to book their place in the last four stage.