Pakistan look to regain lost glory

Hockey in Pakistan is still nursing the bruise of not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. The country that enjoyed one of its biggest highs during the 1990s, has lost its aura and is struggling to catch up with the new forces. In such a backdrop of despair, the junior World Cup assumes greater significance for them.

The colts know that Pakistan has rested its hopes on them. So driven is this young Pakistani side to prove a point to themselves and fans back home that despite taking an exhausting journey of travelling through bus to the Wagah border before boarding a flight to Delhi, the team landed at the Majo Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Monday evening within hours of their arrival. 

Olympian and chief coach of the national team, Tahir Zaman, who is accompanying the team as a consultant, put it straight -- winning the tournament would mean a lot to them.
“Both from the point of view of Pakistan hockey and the players, it is a very important tournament for us. Everyone was disappointed after we could not qualify for the senior World Cup. It was as major setback. Mayusi ka aalam tha (There was an atmosphere of despair). The focus of the Pakistan hockey is surely the junior world cup now,” Zaman said after Pakistan drew 1-1 with South Africa in a practice match under floodlights at the National Stadium on Tuesday.

Zaman was of the view that Pakistan could qualify for the semifinals despite being placed in the “group of death”, that includes defending champions and five-time winners Germany and junior European champions Belgium apart from Egypt.

“Certainly we have the potential to finish in the top four. We are hoping for a good start. I believe in structured and disciplined hockey and we are trying to play like that. It is our strength,” he said.

“We have two tough teams in Germany and Belgium. So our World Cup starts right from the first pool match. In a way it is good. If we qualify from here we will be able to achieve good results in other tournaments too.”

With political tensions between Indian and Pakistan trickling to sports, Zaman urged the hockey federations of the two countries to rise above their differences. “India-Pakistan hockey matches are a big attraction worldwide because you can see a range of skills from both teams. Regular ‘Test’ series and junior-level tournaments should be played.

“In the past, one of the reasons for our success was that we often played against each other. When players play under such tremendous pressure that these matches provide, they improve in their mental strengths and it helps them to improve as a player,” he said.
Zaman called India a well-balanced side and hoped for an India-Pakistan final. “Indian team is a good, balanced side. They are skilful and have the potential to finish in top four.”

Coach Saeed Anjum said they are banking on their match practice. “Last two months we went to Europe, played Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. We won against Germany and Belgium and lost the series to Netherlands. It was a good tournament.”

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