Hockey disappointment

Published May 29, 2022

IN the space of about two hours, the disappointment of a narrow 3-2 loss to Japan turned into sheer anguish for the Pakistan hockey team. Umar Bhutta’s men had two goals disallowed in Jakarta; had even one of them been counted, the outlook would have been very different. A draw would have secured Pakistan a place in the Super 4s stage of the Asia Cup. Instead, the defeat handed defending champions India the opportunity to decide their arch-rivals’ fate. The equation was still favourable for Pakistan. India needed to beat hosts Indonesia by 15 goals to pip Pakistan to runners-up spot in Pool ‘A’. As it transpired, India won 16-0 and with a spot at next year’s World Cup on offer for the top three finishers at the Asia Cup, Pakistan were out of that race too. It will be the second time in three editions that Pakistan will not feature on the sport’s biggest stage. Once the most dominant force in world hockey, Pakistan have also missed the last two editions of the Olympics.

Retired Brig Khalid Sajjad Khokhar has become the first Pakistan Hockey Federation president to have overseen failures to qualify for the World Cup and the Olympics during his six-year tenure. In the aftermath of the Asia Cup, there have been calls for a change at the PHF helm. But any change at the top should not have a trickle-down effect. The national team has shown improvement since Dutchman Siegfried Aikman took over as head coach. Trying to implement modern methods, Mr Aikman, who’s been handed an unprecedented five-year contract, has had his run-ins with the country’s former Olympians, who he says are obsessed with hockey of a bygone era. It’s that obsession which has seen Pakistan fall behind the world’s elite teams, including those in Asia. Mr Aikman is keen on raising a strong national team by improving their fitness levels to compete with the Europeans. It’s a rebuilding process that won’t happen overnight. For now, he needs to be given time.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2022

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