Great Britain coach Jason Lee could last night begin to contemplate “shooting for the stars” – meaning qualification for the men’s hockey semi finals – declaring after a comfortable 4-1 win over Pakistan that progress was in his own side’s gift, despite the brooding presence of world champions Australia, on Sunday.
“It’s in our destiny. I don’t think I’m worried about topping the group. Top two will do nicely,” Lee said and the prime reason for his optimism was the player whom every hockey buff will tell you is the player of this tournament so far. Ashley Jackson, whose penalty corner flicks and a breathtaking piece of goal creation cut Pakistan to pieces, is not generally bigged up by his coach. “I’ve seen him play better. He tends to play better when the team is better,” Lee said of his number 7. “He is someone who will be scoring goals throughout this tournament and his career. Long may it continue!"
But Jackson’s goals at the at the Riverbank Arena revealed his pre-eminence in the world game as a corner flicker. Historically, many of the game's finest corner flickers have had to be hidden in teams because they have nothing else to offer but while Jackson has mastered this specialist position with a very unusual technique, powering the ball through his wrists, he delivers other qualities. The breathtaking run which set up James Tindall reverse stick opener, in four minutes, proved the point. Jackson was also involved in the build up to Jonty Clarke’s 26th minute strike and contributed his punishing flicked strikes after the break.
World champions Australia’s surprising 2-2 draw with Argentina yesterday gives Britain encouragement. “They had 27 shots and they scored one,” Lee said of a side whose match intensity is on a another level. “Australia often have funny, odd games and they have had one today.” Defeat on Sunday may leave Lee requiring a win in their last game, against unfancied Spain, if the Pakistanis beat South Africa in their own penultimate game.
Pakistan were poor, offering minimal trouble to goalkeeper James Fair who produced a fine double save from two successive Sohail Abbas corner flicks. Their general manager insisted that they are not done yet: “The tournament is still open, it’s not closed."
But Abbas sees something striking in Lee’s side. “They have changed a lot. You see this team has totally changed. They are playing like a champion team. The name of GB hockey is coming up. I've played hockey against them for 14 years so I have seen a lot.”