Pakistan Hopes To Kickstart A Hockey Revival At The Junior World Cup
Pakistan’s hockey team has missed out on the last two Olympic Games. It did not qualify for the 2014 FIH World Cup, did not win a single match at the 2018 edition, and was also kicked out of the inaugural FIH Pro League in 2019.
Pakistan’s hockey team, once a powerhouse, has failed to qualify for the last two Olympic Games. It failed to qualify for the 2014 FIH World Cup (a tournament created in the country), did not win a single match at the 2018 edition, and was also kicked out of the inaugural FIH Pro League in 2019.
The pandemic disrupted Covid-19’s international calendar, which made matters worse. Despite the odds and a precipitous drop, Pakistan will attempt to shock the hockey world once more when they face six-time champions Germany on the opening day of the Men’s Junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday.
“This tournament will show that Pakistan is a much-improved team.” “Our combination is strong, there is harmony and unity, and we hope to surprise the entire (hockey) world with our performance,” said Abdul Rana, captain of the country’s junior team. “We have a positive attitude. We will play with zeal against Germany and try to win the game.”
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Pakistan, the tournament’s inaugural winner in 1979, has been drawn in Pool D with Germany, 2005 champion Argentina, and Egypt, 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 pandemic’s outbreak last year.
However, the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) organized regular inter-departmental matches against top teams, in addition to contests against the senior national team, to provide junior players with match practice. To maintain continuity, the team management also held national camps on a regular basis with no long breaks.
“If we had a four-week camp, we would give them a one-week break after which they would compete in domestic tournaments.” Of course, there have been issues caused by Covid-19, but so have others. My team is well-prepared, and we intend to defy all odds. “There’s no reason why we can’t do well,” Pakistan head coach Danish Kaleem said, adding that the team is aiming for a podium finish.
Kaleem is familiar with the Kalinga Stadium pitch and conditions in Bhubaneswar, having been a member of the senior team that competed in the World Cup three years ago. “I am familiar with the conditions, the terrain, and the atmosphere, which is why the junior national camp was held in Karachi for the longest time because the weather there is very similar to that of Odisha.” “We played two practice matches and the boys were fine,” said the 48-year-old Olympian, who joined the team as an assistant coach in 2018.
Pakistan was unable to compete in the Men’s Junior World Cup in Lucknow in 2016, despite qualifying for the tournament. While the International Hockey Federation (FIH) claimed that Pakistan did not submit their entry and visa applications on time, the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) blamed India for not issuing visas. When Pakistan’s senior team was able to compete in the World Cup in 2018, relations improved and paperwork became easier.
The 18-man squad arrived in Bhubaneswar late Saturday evening and has already played two practice matches behind closed doors at the Kalinga Stadium, against Chile on Sunday and Canada on Monday. “The boys performed admirably in their matches against the senior team.” That proved beneficial in practice matches, giving us a lot of confidence. “I hope we approach the tournament with the same attitude,” Rana, who has also participated in the senior national camp, said.
Rana and Kaleem are confident that the national team’s performance will begin to improve—at both the senior and junior levels—and that the world will see a new Pakistan side in the next two years, with the Junior World Cup serving as a springboard for young players back home.
“Matches will be broadcast live, and everyone will be watching.” There is only one goal: for the boys to play well and produce results so that young players can have hope. If that happens, our hockey will undoubtedly rise again,” Kaleem predicted.