Nine months after grabbing gold at the Asian Games, the Pakistan hockey team left for China last night to maintain their supremacy in the continent and win the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy that starts from September 3.
It was earlier this week that captain Mohammad Imran played down the importance of winning the event, arguing that Pakistan will be going into the event with a view of finding their best possible line-up for the Champions Trophy and London Olympics instead of going for gold.
However, team manager Khwaja Junaid disagreed with Imran's thoughts.
"Like all other participants, we also have the trophy in mind," Junaid told The Express Tribune prior to the team's departure. "There's no doubt that finding an ideal team combination is also important but winning the tournament is equally important and we are going with dual aims."
Besides Pakistan and hosts China, India, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia are taking part in the event. Pakistan will launch their campaign against Malaysia on the opening day of the tournament. They will then take on the hosts on the following day before lining up against Japan and South Korea on September 6 and 7. They will play their last league match against arch-rivals India.
Giving youngsters a chance
The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) omitted seniors including record-holder Sohail Abbas, striker Rehan Butt and goal-keeper Salman Akbar in order to give youngsters a chance. Junaid felt that a title-winning performance will boost the confidence of junior players.
"The youngsters will get confidence if we manage to win and I'm hopeful they'll perform as they've worked hard. However, it won't be easy because teams like Korea and India aren't easy opponents."
'Under pressure without seniors'
Meanwhile, Butt said that Pakistan will be under pressure without the senior players.
"The inclusion of juniors is good but senior players are also important," he said. "The team will be under pressure during the tournament as it lacks experience."
Meanwhile, Olympian Farhat Khan seemed unsatisfied with the squad's preparations. "The federation is stuck with its indecision over juniors and seniors," said Khan. "This is hurting the team's preparations which is not up to the mark."
Former captain Rehan Butt
"The inclusion of juniors is a good step but senior players have their own importance. The team will be under pressure during the tournament as it lacks experience."
Team captain Mohammad Imran
"We are not going in to win. The Asian Champions Trophy is not that important and our main task will be to find a good team combination rather than going for gold."
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2011.