~ Tahir Zaman recalls how he overcame personal tragedy to help the team clinch the 1994 World Cup ~
As the clock ticks closer to the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela, with less than 50 days to go, Hockey India’s Favourite World Cup Memory Series continues to bring hockey fans unknown facts, fun anecdotes and special moments from hockey stars around the world who have achieved the pinnacle at this prestigious event in the previous years.
Our series picks up with Pakistan hockey legend Tahir Zaman, who recalled how he overcame his father’s demise to script history at the 1994 World Cup in Sydney.
Zaman, who was an integral part of the 1994 World Cup-winning Pakistan team, received the news of his father’s demise just before the team’s opening game. “We were about to start our first game against Argentina on 23rd November 1994 and I got the sad news from home that my father has passed away. I was given a choice of going back home, but I wasn’t sure about what to do. Then I spoke to my mother, and she said that I can’t change anything, it is better if I stay there and play the World Cup. She said that it was my father’s desire that we win the World Cup and that somehow motivated the whole team,” he vividly recalled.
The team led by Pakistani legend Shahbaz Ahmed, defeated Argentina 3-0 in their opening match and went on to top Pool A, registering four wins and a loss in five matches. The former forward also scored a goal in Pakistan’s win against Argentina.
Speaking about how the team rallied behind his personal loss, Zaman expressed, “The whole team was with me.”
“Especially, our late manager Rashid Jr. and Shahbaz pushed me a lot. It was the first game and they asked me to stay back at the hotel. But I insisted that I will come to the pitch. When the match started, I was in my sandals and suddenly I started getting ready and told my manager that I want to play. It was very sad news for me, but somehow, from that game, when I joined the team on the pitch, we got very good momentum, and all of a sudden, it looked difficult to beat this Pakistan team.”
Pakistan defeated Germany in the Semi-Final and Netherlands in the Final on Penalty Strokes to clinch the title.
When asked about the team’s mood before the Final, Zaman said, “I remember having a conversation with Marc Delissen (of Netherlands) in the elevator the night before the Final. He asked me if I am ready for the big game. I became emotional and replied, ‘We are going to take revenge for the 1990 World Cup loss’.”
Pakistan had lost the World Cup to Netherlands at home when the tournament was held in Lahore in 1990. Netherlands had beaten Pakistan 3-1 in the Final.
Tahir further added, “It was a tough game, but we were the better team in the Final. I can say that against Germany, it was a very close match and we were lucky enough to win in the Penalty Strokes. But, in the Final, we were better as compared to the Dutch team. We missed many chances but won by saving the strokes. Jeroen Delmee, who was their best penalty stroke taker, along with Floris Bovelander missed their chances. Also, our late goalkeeper Mansoor Ahmed did really well in saving Penalty Strokes and made Pakistan the Champions of the 1994 World Cup.”
On being asked about his favourite moment from the tournament, the former Pakistan Captain said, “I still recall the last words from my late father. He told me that I have been winning these small tournaments, it would be nice if I could win the World Cup. So, that was the trigger point for me in my personal capacity, and becoming the champion was the only thing on my mind. I fell down on the pitch, I was unconscious during the team celebrations. Being on the podium and having that Gold Medal was an absolutely memorable moment for me.”
“There were huge celebrations back home. We received a grand reception at the airport. Pakistan Hockey president Vice Marshal (retd) Farooq Umar, Shahbaz, and our manager brought me in front and asked me to grab the World Cup trophy. It was a huge celebration and then I started realising that I have made some contribution to Pakistan to win this World Cup,” the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Bronze medalist fondly recalled.
A veteran of 252 international caps and 134 goals, Zaman spoke candidly about his relationship with the current International Hockey Federation (FIH) President Tayyab Ikram.
“I was only 14 years old when I met President Tayyab Ikram for the first time. He was my Coach, appointed by the Pakistan Sports Board through a scholarship. Till now, he is my Coach and my mentor in my playing and coaching profession. He used to drop and pick me up from the college in his car for practice. And, his car was always full of balls, cones, and hockey sticks. I was very young, I wanted to give up hockey and go back home, but he convinced me to stay and that was the turning point in my life,” Tahir said.
‘May the best team win the World Cup’: Zaman
Zaman, who is currently the Head Coach of the Egypt National Team, said that India has a good chance of winning the upcoming FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela, which is set to begin from January 13th. Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, India, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, England, France, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Chile, and Wales are the 16 teams, who will battle it out for the coveted trophy.
“I would say India has a good chance this time. To be honest, home ground, home crowd advantage, but they should not forget that it can also be a disadvantage. The pressure of the home crowd and local media is something they have to be careful of. Apart from that, playing disciplined hockey, and not getting emotional will help. I would say the consistency I have noticed in the Indian team’s performance shows that they have everything that can make them the World Champions this time,” the former forward stated.
“France and South Africa are the kinds of teams that can make any kind of upsets. But, on the other hand, Australia, Belgium, Germany, and perhaps Argentina are big teams to watch out for. I would rate Australia and the Netherlands higher than Belgium this time. But, let’s see how it goes. May the best team win the World Cup,” he concluded.