Pakistan begin their WHL campaign against a tough Malaysian side today (16:00 PST). -Photo by AP
Pakistan should target Malaysia and South Africa in the eight-nation World Hockey League (WHL) if they realistically hope to progress in the event, legendary winger Samiullah said in an exclusive interview to Dawn.com.
The WHL, a qualifying event from which the top three teams will earn berths to the 2014 World Cup in Holland, will see Pakistan pitted against hosts Malaysia, South Africa and England in Pool 'A' of the eight-nation tournament. Pool 'B', meanwhile, will see powerhouse Germany, Korea, Japan and Argentina vying for top honours.
"Pakistan are placed with Malaysia, South Africa and England. They have to believe that they can at least conquer the threats posed by Malaysia and South Africa. However, they must overcome their shortcomings in stopping counter-attacks and must make penalty-corners count," Samiullah, dubbed the 'Flying Horse', said.
Ranked 12th, South Africa has enjoyed previous success against Pakistan, their 4-3 win at the 2010 World Cup being one of the big upsets of the tournament. And Malaysia, even after sliding down to 13th on the world chart, have always proved plucky opponents for the Greenshirts. But Samiullah believes these are the two matches that will give Pakistan a realistic hope of victory.
"They must employ the 5-3-2 formation. It may be a little tough on the half-line but that's how they should operate. The forward line has been found wanting in the recent past and often loses shape before making inroads in the the D. However, they have to make each and every opportunity count in this tournament."
According to the former captain, Pakistan's biggest challenge will be overcoming their fitness issues which will be evident from their performances in the WHL but will also dictate how they do in the future. They are likely to be without the services of half-back Rashid Mahmood, who pulled a hamstring in a warmup match against Germany on Friday.
"The biggest divide between the top teams and Pakistan is fitness. Players from Australia, Germany and Netherlands are super fit. The nature of the game has changed and endurance determines how you fare in matches. Our players, unfortunately, lack in this department and the most clear example of it is when teams catch us on the counterattack. We will need to drastically improve this," he added
Pakistan take on Malaysia in their first match today (June 29, 16:00 PST) before lining up against a tough England side on June 30 (16:00 PST). They will play their last group match on July 2 (18:00 PST) against South Africa.