The defeat in the Asia Cup was expected. When our over-rated Pakistan hockey team couldn’t even figure in the top three in the World Hockey League (WHL) in June-July, a requirement to qualify for the 2014 International Hockey Federation (FIH) World Cup, how could they even expect to win the Asia Cup, also a qualifier for the biggest event next year?
In the WHL in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, the Pakistani side, which was fifth in world rankings, drew 4-4 with Malaysia and 2-2 with England, both weak sides, to beat South Africa, which was ranked 12th by the way, by 6-2. The nation dying to see the Green Shirts make a comeback rejoiced. What was strange was that the team, too, seemed exceptionally happy about the victory. They relaxed in their next match against South Korea to lose 3-4 against a team ranked eighth in the world.
To make a long story short, the Green Shirts who can create chances but cannot score, couldn’t make the top three. They ended up seventh in the eight-team event, but were glad to not have picked up the wooden spoon.
It is a trait of the current Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) management to come up with some kind of an act after putting up a bad show in any tournament. The scapegoat this time was the team’s coach Hanif Khan and Tahir Zaman was asked to take over.
Meanwhile, chief coach Akhtar Rasool and the PHF management sat tight. When the team ended up 12th in the 12-team World Cup back in 2010, the entire 11 member team announced their retirement. Then the federation started another drama, saying that they were disheartened as they tried so hard but failed to achieve anything. One by one all were brought back to make the same team.
This was followed by the hiring of a foreign coach, Michel van dan Heuvel of Holland. The man had some effect as he managed to get a victory for the side in the Asian Games in 2011 in Guangzhou, China. Michel, during a press conference soon after taking charge of the team had said that as a young boy back home he had witnessed the Pakistan hockey team’s glory days. He said he remembered that players like Shahnaz Sheikh, Islahuddin, Samiullah, Hasan Sardar, etc., not running on the field but flying. “I want to make the Green
Shirts fly again,” he would say. But for reasons best known to the PHF, the man was fired in 2012, just ahead of the London Olympics.
Former hockey great Akhtar Rasool is the team’s chief coach ever since. There was just a month’s time between the WHL and Asia Cup but Rasool and deputy vowed to bring the national team to championship-winning standard. Meanwhile, all kinds of controversies took place. For instance when centre-forward Shakeel Abbasi was found to be fasting in camp during the holy month of Ramazan, he was told to stop fasting and on refusing to do so, was thrown out of the camp. Then realising a shortage of good players after not being able to discover more talent or groom young players, he was recalled after a few days.
There were tall claims of “this time it would be different” by the team management. They said that it is a must-win scenario for Pakistan in the Asia Cup so they will have to perform well. And then the 7-0 win for Pakistan in the first match against Japan in the Asia Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia, saw everyone making more claims of coming glory. And it seemed within grasp with another 4-1 victory against Malaysia. Beating Chinese Taipei 13-0 almost made it real but then in the semi-final against South Korea everything fell flat. South Korea defeated Pakistan 1-2 to send the Green Shirts back home with their tails between their legs. As only winning the Asia Cup could have got Pakistan a berth in the 2014 Hockey World Cup, the first time in the hockey history of this country its national team will be sitting out the event.