DEFENDING champions Australia qualified for the Commonwealth Games men’s hockey semi-final with a 1-0 victory against a spirited Pakistan here on Saturday.
The Aussies moved to the top of Pool A with nine points from three wins to set themselves on course for a fourth gold medal on the trot in the Games.
The world champions have finished on the top of the podium in all the three editions since the sport was introduced in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Pakistan, who tasted their first defeat of the tournament, will now have to win their match against arch-rivals India on Sunday if they are to make it to the semis.
Australia were tested by the nippy Pakistan forwards throughout the fiercely-fought match played in nearly 40 degrees temperature at the Major Dhyan Chand stadium.
The Aussies owed their win to full-back Chris Ciriello who converted a penalty corner three minutes from half-time for a 1-0 lead.
Pakistan, who lost the final to Australia by the same margin in 2006 Melbourne Games, struggled hard for the equaliser but were unlucky to miss a few close chances.
They forced a penalty corner in the final 70th minute but full-back Muhammad Imran botched the golden chance.
Pakistan coach Michel van den Heuvel credited his team for making Australia sweat for the victory.
“I am happy they were able to make it hard for 70 minutes for Australia, the world number one. They put a lot of pressure on our ball players. Together, with the collective fatigue, it made it very hard for us.
“We have a young team and we need a little extra power and luck, but we’ll get to that. Tomorrow (Sunday) will be a difficult game. It’s an iron clash between two cultures.
“It’s going to be more of a mental game than anything else.” Ciriello praised Pakistan’s fighting spirit.
“Pakistan are one of the top teams,” he said. “They really fought hard. We gave away two penalty corners but they failed to score off them. Pakistan also defended their goal pretty well.
“Heat also was a factor. We knew the conditions would be like this so we prepared accordingly.”