Pakistan aim to start hockey revival chain at Junior World Cup

Pakistan hockey team has failed to qualify for the last two Olympic Games. It did not make the cut for the 2014 FIH World Cup, failed to win even a single match at the 2018 edition and were also evicted from the inaugural FIH Pro League in 2019.
Pakistan hockey team
Pakistan hockey team
Published on Nov 22, 2021 10:45 PM IST
Copy Link

Once masters of the game, the Pakistan hockey team has failed to qualify for the last two Olympic Games. It did not make the cut for the 2014 FIH World Cup (a tournament conceived in the country), failed to win even a single match at the 2018 edition and were also evicted from the inaugural FIH Pro League in 2019.

Covid-19 did not make matters easier with the pandemic completely halting their international calendar. But despite the odds and a drastic plunge, Pakistan aim to startle the hockey world once again when they take on six-time champions Germany on the opening day of the Men’s Junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday.

“You will see in this tournament that Pakistan is a much-improved team. Our combination is good, there is harmony and unity and we hope to surprise the entire (hockey) world with our performance,” said Abdul Rana, skipper of the country’s junior outfit. “Our mindset is good. We will play with full spirit against Germany and try and win the match.”

Winners of the inaugural edition of the tournament in 1979, Pakistan have been clubbed with Germany, 2005 champions Argentina and Egypt in Pool D and will have to play out of their skins to make the quarter-finals, given that they have not played a single international event since the outbreak of the pandemic last year.

However, to provide the junior players match practice, Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) had organised regular inter-departmental matches against top teams in addition to contests against the senior national team. The team management also held national camps regularly without long breaks to maintain continuity.

“If we had a four-week camp, we gave them a gap of one week after which they played domestic tournaments. Of course, there have been problems due to Covid-19 but that’s true for everyone else. My team is well prepared and we will try to overcome all odds. There is no reason why we cannot perform well,” said Pakistan head coach Danish Kaleem, who added that the team is targeting a podium finish.

Kaleem is well aware of the Kalinga Stadium pitch and conditions in Bhubaneswar, having been part of the senior set-up that took part in the World Cup three years back. “I have experience of the conditions, the ground and the atmosphere, which is why the junior national camp was held in Karachi for the longest time as the conditions there are very similar to the weather of Odisha. We played two practice matches and the boys did not have any problem,” said the 48-year-old Olympian who came as an assistant coach in 2018.

The last time the Men’s Junior World Cup was held in Lucknow in 2016, Pakistan could not participate despite qualifying for the tournament. While the international hockey federation (FIH) claimed that Pakistan had failed to submit their entry and visa applications before the deadline, PHF blamed India for not issuing visas. Relations got better and paperwork smoother in 2018 when the Pakistani senior team was able to participate in the World Cup.

Having arrived in Bhubaneswar late on Saturday evening, the 18-member squad has already played two practice matches—against Chile on Sunday and Canada on Monday—behind closed doors at the Kalinga Stadium. “In the matches against the senior team, the boys played really well. That proved to be fruitful in the practice matches which have given us a lot of confidence. I hope we play the tournament with the same attitude,” said Rana, who has also been part of the senior national camp.

Rana and Kaleem are confident that the national team’s performance will start improving—at both the senior and junior levels—and the world will see a new Pakistan side in the next two years with this Junior World Cup providing the impetus for young players back home.

“Matches will be live… everyone will be watching. There is only one aim; that the boys play well, deliver results, so that young players get hope. If that happens, our hockey will definitely rise again,” said Kaleem.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Tuesday, November 30, 2021