KARACHI: Pakistan’s impressive showing at the Sultan of Johor Cup (SOJC), where they finished runners-up after losing 3-1 to pre-tournament favourites Australia in the final, has impressed many onlookers and leaves the Colts as one of the world’s most in-demand hockey teams.
Head coach Tahir Zaman, speaking to The Express Tribune from Malaysia, revealed that no big team wanted to play friendlies against the Greenshirts before the tournament but teams are now inviting them to play practice matches after their SOJC performances.
With the junior hockey World Cup set to take place in India next month, Zaman had been trying hard to arrange friendlies for the side.
“I started contacting coaches of the top teams in order to try and arrange practice matches before the World Cup begins but no one was ready to play against a low-ranked team like ours,” he said.
“As our players were inexperienced, no country wanted to waste their time right before the World Cup,” he said. “Therefore we had to settle for matches against club sides from Netherlands and then played Spain.”
Zaman also discussed how participating in the SOJC helped his players. “When we came here, our players were afraid of playing against Australia since they are the top-ranked team and they felt they couldn’t compete against them,” he said. “This resulted in us losing 8-1. But once we understood how the Australians played, we did better in the final.”
The improved performances didn’t go unnoticed. “The top teams always ignored my requests for practice matches, citing tight schedules,” he revealed. “But that has changed now and coaches of various teams, including Germany’s, have been in touch for a practice match.”
With the World Cup around the corner, the players will now be going into a three-week training camp where they will be looking to polish their skills.
“We have to further improve our tactical awareness since that is the team’s biggest strength,” he said. “Our players tend to have good positional awareness and usually stay where they are asked to stay.”
World Cup in India
Cross-border tension has seen India reject several sporting visas for Pakistan, including the kabaddi team not being given visas for the World Cup in India, but Zaman feels the Greenshirts will not suffer the same fate.
He believes Pakistan have proven they are still one of the giants of the game and teams do not want them to miss out on the tournament over political issues.
“The Pakistan-India clash is the one everyone around the world will be waiting to watch, the International Hockey Federation cannot afford to have a World Cup without Pakistan,” he said, before adding that they are only focusing on training.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2016.
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