MELBOURNE: After clinching a third place finish at the recently-concluded, four-nation hockey International Super Series, Pakistan is looking to re-establish itself on the global stage at the Champions Trophy, starting in Melbourne, Australia on Saturday.
In the first major field hockey tournament since the London Games, the eight-nation event will kick-start the next Olympic cycle as teams begin to plan for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Pakistan have picked a younger team, aiming to win the country its first Champions Trophy medal since 1994.
“We have selected the team on merit and kept fitness and form the only criteria before giving nod to every player,” said Pakistan’s head coach Akhtar Rasool.
“We have given chance to a couple of new players and they are looking in good shape to deliver in order to cement their places in the national team,” he said.
Pakistan left out veterans Sohail Abbas and Rehan Butt citing their lackluster performances at the 2012 London Olympics at which Pakistan finished seventh.
Mohammad Imran-led Pakistan face Netherlands in the opening fixture and will be facing Belgium and Australia in its Group B fixtures. Group A consists of England, New Zealand, India and Germany.
“Pakistan, being the number seven in world wide ranking, needs a lot of hard work and commitment to overcome its opponents and a good result in nine-a-side event can be a good inspiration to perform in the Champion Trophy,” said former national hockey coach Khwaja Junaid.
However, former captain Butt, has shot down Pakistan's chances at the Champions Trophy, saying that the opposition is much stronger.
“Pakistan will be up against sides which are better than us in the rankings,” said Butt while talking to a local newspaper. “We shouldn’t expect much in this tournament.”
Meanwhile, an unexpected failure to land gold at the London Olympics is driving Australia to go after an unprecedented fifth straight title at the Champions Trophy.
The 'Kookaburras' have an exceptional record at the tournament and with the most experienced line-up of any competing team, including 10 members of the London Olympic squad, are looking to create history by becoming the first to win the title for five straight years.
Kookaburras star and five-time world player of the year Jamie Dwyer said the hurt of losing out in London, where they went in as hot favourites only to come away with bronze, would drive the players throughout the tournament.
“It's great to be playing in Melbourne again, the team have fond memories of the 2009 Champions Trophy and after London that hurt definitely drives and makes you appreciate winning even more,” Dwyer said.
Teams will be using the tournament to introduce new players to the rigours of international field hockey.
After finishing in last place at London, India have selected a strong squad led by Sardar Singh, while the Germans are reigning Olympic champions, their young squad could be vulnerable. However, the likes of penalty corner specialist Christopher Zeller will ensure they are in the firing line for honours.
The Netherlands will also be looking to continue their good form from the Olympics where they took silver, however the Dutch now find themselves without their recently-retired long-time goal scoring machine Teun De Nooijer.
England will also rate their chances after making the Olympic medal rounds, while outsiders New Zealand and Belgium cannot be underestimated following their steady climbing of the ranks throughout recent major tournaments.
In the other opening day matches, Germany take on New Zealand, Australia play Belgium and England face India.
The tournament finishes on December 9.