Sports provide memories which remain engraved in one’s mind for all times to come. Hockey has given Pakistanis many. Old timers still recall the radio commentary of Naseer Bunda’s goal at the 1960 Olympics hockey final which won Pakistan their first ever gold.
Pakistan went on to win two more Olympic golds as well as four World Cups. The dramatic climax provided by the last is probably the most memorable.
1994 World Cup final at Homebush Stadium in the Australian city of Sydney: For the first time in the World Cup’s history, the same two nations were playing the successive finals. In 1990, at Lahore’s national hockey stadium, in front of a crowd of 70,000, record for any World Cup final, Holland had come from behind to defeat the hosts Pakistan 3-1. The man of the day was Floris Jan Bovelander, who converted both the penalty corners coming Holland’s way that day.
At the 1994 final, it ended 1-1 in the stipulated time and the match entered the nerve wrecking penalties. Surprisingly, Bovelander sent Holland’s second penalty wide off the mark. All other from either side didn’t falter. So when the last round started, it was 4-3 in Pakistan’s favour. Shafqat stepped in for what could have been the World Cup clinching penalty but his poor attempt was easily saved by the Dutch net minder to give his team a lifeline. Jeroen Delmee now had the chance to take the match to sudden death. Mansoor, in his goalkeeping kit resembling an alien took his spot. There was a complete hush at the Homebush and thousands of kilometres away Pakistan stood still. Delmee flicked and Mansoor dived to his right to palm the ball away. World Cup came to Pakistan. Mansoor’s name got engraved in Pakistani sporting folklore.
That year, it was Mansoor’s third such performance at the vital knockout stage of FIH’s two top events.
Only two days back, Pakistan’s World Cup semi-final against Germany had also gone to the penalties and Mansoor’s heroics carried his team into the final.
Pakistan had initiated the Champions Trophy in 1978 and also won the first two editions. But since then it had been a drought. Lahore staged the 16th edition in March 1994. Pakistan reached the final where they came across Germany. It ended 2-2 and Pakistan won on the penalties.
These remain Pakistan’s last two major victories in the international arena — both couldn’t have been possible without Mansoor’s outstanding contribution.
Mansoor, son of an air force official hailing from Rawalpindi, spent his formative years in Karachi. He studied at Habib Public School which has a proud history of producing hockey internationals. His natural goalkeeping talent was spotted by Shabih Abbas, the famous hockey coach at YMCA. In fact, YMCA came to be known as a goalkeeping factory. Shahid Ali Khan, Mansoor, Ahmed Alam, and Ejaz Khokhar, all donned national shirt.
Soon he was on the radar. Mansoor toured China with the Pakistan Sports Board Youth team in 1983. There was no looking back. In 1985, he appeared in the Junior World Cup and next year gained selection in the national team.
In an international career from 1986-97 he stood under the bar in 338 matches. These included three World Cups, three Olympics, three Asian Games, two Asia Cups and 10 Champions Trophy.
At the Atlanta Olympics 1996, Mansoor was Pakistan’s captain. He had the honour of carrying the country’s flag at the opening ceremony.
He was bestowed with the Pride of Performance award in 1994 by the government of Pakistan.
Mansoor was also named in the World Team announced after the 1994 World Cup.
After his playing days, Mansoor had a few coaching stints. These included Pakistan junior hockey team in 2000 and as a specialist goalkeeping coach with the Bangladesh hockey team in 2014.
Mansoor developed a heart ailment three years back. Seven stents and a pacemaker were implanted in his heart to keep it functioning. His condition deteriorated a couple of months back. At the time of his death, he was under treatment at the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases Karachi.
There, he was offered a mechanical heart transplantation which, had he accepted, would have been the first time the procedure was to be conducted in the country. But Mansoor refused as he wanted a proven procedure, for which he wanted to go to India and the visa process had been started. But nature didn’t wait. He was only 50.
The national hero should have been looked after better, especially by the Pakistan government.
Former Germany captain Christian Blunck said: “Mansoor was no doubt one of the finest goalkeepers in hockey history. I remember two special moments. At the 1994 Champions Trophy in Lahore, the stadium was packed and it went to the penalties. Mansoor saved mine and Pakistan won the CT.
The other was the semifinal at the World Cup in Sydney, later that year. Again we had penalties and he saved mine again and Pakistan went on to the final where they won again after the penalties. We had a great time after the final in Sydney. I celebrated with the Pakistan team in the hotel. Mansoor was so happy. I met Mansoor this January for the last time and we talked about old times. He will be in my memories forever.”
Legendary Dutch penalty corner expert Bovelander said: “Mansoor was a great goalie with superb reflexes and above all a very friendly human. We had tough battles on the pitch but laughs after the game. This January, we met in Karachi and talked about the old days mainly about the World Cup in 1994 when I missed the penalty in the final and Pakistan won, and the 1990 World Cup final where I scored two penalty corner goals against him and Holland were the winners. So sad to know that we have lost our hockey friend.”
By providing those immortal moments, Mansoor has become immortal.
Major honours gained: One World Cup gold and one World Cup silver, Olympic bronze, Asian Games gold, Asia Cup gold and Champions Trophy gold.