While Pakistan’s hockey coach might have labelled his team contenders for the Olympics title, the players’ recent on-field show gives them the more credible tag of the also-rans. The Olympics year has brought the team little joy as it sinks deeper into misery. Its recent whirlwind tour of Europe opened with a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the lower-ranked Belgium and ended with a 3-3 draw against the mighty Dutch. The Pakistan Hockey Federation’s (PHF) indecisiveness when it comes to its policy regarding senior players remains a worry. It rested individuals before sending them into obscurity, citing the availability of better replacements as the reason. However, as the team finished rock-bottom in the Azlan Shah Cup, failing to acclimatise to the increasing demands of international hockey and the blue turf, the snubbed group was swiftly offered an olive branch.
Some were fined — for practicing their right to earn a livelihood — but handed an opportunity to script their swansong, while others chose to make their peace. Sohail Abbas has lost his magic touch in recent times. Added to this were the undisclosed matters that forced the exit of the Dutch coach Michel van dan Heuvel.
The Greenshirts have not brought home a gold medal since Los Angeles, in 1984 and their last podium was a third-place finish in Barcelona in 1992. Pakistan finished eighth in Beijing in 2008 and 12th in the 2010 World Cup. However, against all expectations, the 2010 Asian Games were won and a second-place finish in last year’s Azlan Shah Cup was delivered. The opposition, conditions and the colour of the turf in London will ensure a bumpy ride for the team. Gold looks a fuzzy dream but with the quality Pakistan have at their disposal and their ability to click when it matters, they are capable of a few surprises. For that, the team must ensure that they leave their Olympics blues at home.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2012.
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