The Pakistan hockey team is once again making the effort to regain the Olympic hockey gold which it had won 28 years ago for the third and last time in 1984 Los Angles Games.
However, chances look bleak, given its recent performances. Also, it doesn’t help that Pakistan hockey could not even win a bronze medal in Olympics in the past 16 years. The last bronze we brought home was from the Barcelona Games in 1992.
Pakistan is bracketed in the six-team Pool A with world champions Australia, Beijing Olympic silver medallist Spain, host England, Sultan Azlan Shah Cup runners-up Argentina and South Africa. The Pool B consists of Olympic champions Germany, The Netherlands, India, Belgium, Azlan Shah Cup winners New Zealand and South Korea. The top two teams on the points table will qualify for the semi-finals Pakistan, currently ranked eighth, faces an arduous task to qualify for the semi-finals. Matches against Spain and formidable Australia as well as against hosts Britain, against whom Pakistan lost in Malaysia, would be tough and require an outstanding performance for an upset victory that appears beyond its potential. By the time this article is published Pakistan’s matches against Spain, Argentina and Great Britain would have already been played. Although we stand a better chance of beating South Africa, we have to win three matches to cement a place in the semi-finals, provided there are no surprises in this pool.
Prediction is a risky business, but Australia and Spain from Pool A while Germany and Netherlands from Pool B are considered strong favourites to qualify for the semi-finals. Given that there are no upsets, the likeliest finalist can be defending champions Germany against either Australia or Spain. However, one cannot say with any amount of certainty as to who would be London hockey gold medallist.
Pakistan’s hockey team may have given patchy performances after the dismissal of the Dutch coach Michel van den Heuvel barely three months before the London Olympics but the national squad, led by penalty corner specialist Sohail Abbas, who holds world record of scoring 345 goals, has been strengthened with the inclusion of Olympians Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi (both forwards), left half Waseem Ahmed and fullback Mohammad Imran. All of them had captained Pakistan teams without any notable achievements.
According to the management the team is a combination of seasoned players and talented juniors and the squad is capable of overcoming challenges. The team has entered the Olympics with all the preparations needed for the event. The players had their last camp in the high altitudes of Abbottabad for its training and for improving its level of fitness that is of paramount importance.
The inclusion of seasoned Olympians bear testimony to the fact that the much publicised junior players failed to come up to the expectation of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) which had spent huge amount of public money in the build up of Olympic team despite the fact that the juniors have been given hard training and enough exposure. But their failure in Malaysia was a very disturbing factor both for the selection committee of which former Olympian Hanif Khan is the chairman and the team management is headed by former Pakistan captain Akhtar Rasool who is also the chief coach.
Whether the Olympians whose performances in the major tournaments for the past one decade had not been a matter of satisfaction would be able to give better show in London Olympic is a big question mark. They may not have the strength to withstand the pressure of the top flight hockey on the fast Blue Turf being used for the first time.