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Sell-out crowds greet India, Pak in Olympic hockey
Kuldip Lal (AFP), PTI
Athens, August 15, 2004
First Published: 22:45 IST(15/8/2004)
Last Updated: 23:42 IST(15/8/2004)

India and Pakistan may not be among the elite teams in field hockey any longer, but their popularity with fans around the world remains undiminished.

The evening program of the Olympic hockey competition on Sunday featuring Pakistan against world champions Germany and India against holders Netherlands drew full houses for the first time at the Helliniko stadium.

Officials said these two first round matches - and the men's final on August 27 - were the only games sold out before the competition began.

"There is amazing demand for tickets," said a hockey official. "And this is not even a match between India and Pakistan. We would probably need to book the Olympic stadium for that."

India and Pakistan, who have won 11 Olympic golds between them, have been drawn in separate preliminary groups, but could clash in the semi-finals or classification matches.

Smalls bands of Dutch and German supporters and flag-waving expatriates from the two Asian countries filled the 7,300-capacity stadium an hour before the start of the evening session.

Thoughtful organisers even played Indian and Pakistan music on the public address system to entertain spectators before the matches.

Hockey is a virtually unknown sport in Greece, who were not given direct entry in their own Games by the International Hockey Federation because of poor standards.

Indian software professional Praveen Jain, based in Athens for two years, said he was delighted at the chance to see the national team in action.

And he was not surprised at the big crowd on Sunday.

"Play a cricket match here and you will get an even bigger response," Jain said.

India, once the masters of the game, won the last of their eight gold medals at the western-boycotted Moscow Games in 1980. They are currently ranked sixth in the world.

Pakistan, one place higher at number five, won three Olympic golds but have not bagged a major competition since the 1994 World Cup in Sydney.


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