Pakistan’s best Olympics medal hopes, its hockey team, launches its campaign today to bring glory back to the country after a span of two decades.
However, after a poor Azlan Shah Cup, tour of Europe and losing both warm-up matches ahead of the mega event, the team has been touted as no hopers. It will take on Spain today in their tournament opener as 12 countries, divided into two pools, fight for honours with the final taking place on August 11.
Pakistan are placed in Pool A and will meet world champions Australia, Great Britain, Argentina and South Africa after Spain in the round matches. Defending champions Germany, the Netherlands, Korea, New Zealand, India and Belgium are placed in Pool B. The top two teams from each pool will advance to the semi-finals on August 9.
Greenshirts promise good show
Pakistan, ranked eighth in the world, will, meanwhile, start as underdogs following a series of unimpressive performances since their gold medal in the 2010 Asian Games.
Their lowest ebb this year was the bottom-place finish in the Azlan Shah Cup and the shaky start to the Olympics preparation with back-to-back losses – against Belgium (2-1) and the Netherlands (5-1). While head coach Akhtar Rasool complained of lack of quality in his squad – we miss the likes of Shahbaz and Sardar, he had said – his assistant Khwaja Junaid remained optimistic.
“We will not let the nation down,” Junaid told The Express Tribune from London. “The players are putting in a lot of hard work and I believe it will pay off. We also need the prayers of the nation.”
However, he admitted that good results in warm-up fixtures could have set a positive start. “The results do carry weight. But we are looking to bounce back from defeats in the main event by learning from the mistakes we made in these games.”
Special plan to curb the Spaniards
Meanwhile, Pakistan, in the last couple of days, have only trained keeping their fifth-ranked opponents Spain in mind.
“We are training to counter their style of hockey. The Spaniards are known for scoring on rebounds off penalty corners so we’re practising to counter those. Secondly, we did a lot of hard work in our penalty-corner training as we failed to score even once in the practice matches.”
However, the Olympian said the players have been advised to maintain their calm and not get overwhelmed by the occasion. “We have prepared to go with a balanced strategy. The players have been told not to take the battle on their nerves.”
Kiwis stun Australia in women’s event
New Zealand pulled off a shock 1-0 victory over former champions Australia in the opening game of Olympic women’s field hockey on Sunday, a first ever win over their rivals in Games history.
New Zealand rode on an early goal from Cathryn Finlayson in the Group B match to secure their landmark triumph. It was the first time the Black Sticks had taken even a point off Australia in the Games, having also lost by at least three goals in the past.
Australia coach Adam Commens admitted his team paid a high price for squandering their opportunities.
“We created enough chances, and when you do so you should be able put the ball in,” he said.
Defending champions Netherlands started their campaign with a solid 3-0 win over hard-working Belgium in Group A. (with additional reporting from afp)
“We don’t have a bunch of star players so we’re banking on the hard work and teamwork to bring us the best possible results.”
“It’s an open competition and there are no favourites. All we need is to plan on a game-by-game basis and take every match as the final.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2012.
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