After a dismal show at the recently concluded Hockey World League (HWL), critics of the Pakistan team see qualifying for the World Cup as an uphill task, but captain Mohammad Imran is confident they can defy the odds and secure a berth at the global event.
Despite topping their group, Pakistan failed miserably in the knockout stages to finish seventh in the eight-nation HWL, which offered the top three sides tickets for the 2014 World Cup that will take place in the Netherlands.
The only way the Greenshirts can book a place at the coveted event now is by winning the Asia Cup that will be held Malaysia later this year.
Former greats remain skeptical of the team’s chances at the event where they will contest against fancied opponents like South Korea, Malaysia and India who will be eager to win the title as well.
‘Luck wasn’t on our side’
Imran said he was not overly disappointed with the team’s performance in the league in Malaysia and was hopeful it can win the all-important Asian title.
“Our overall performance was fine,” Imran told The Express Tribune after returning home on Tuesday night after the HWL stint.
“Our players’ fitness showed significant improvement. We also made comebacks and dominated the opponents. Our performance in defence and forward also improved.
“But some missed chances and errors during crucial stages cost us badly. We lost the match against South Korea [quarter-final] despite taking a double lead. It was because we conceded a goal at the wrong time. The missed penalty stroke [by Shakeel Abbasi] when we were trailing 4-3 proved expensive.
“The luck factor was not with us as we also missed our key players Rashid Mehmood and Mohammad Fareed due to injuries in a warm-up game, with our senior most player Waseem Ahmed being ruled out due to an accident.”
However, Imran said Pakistan still have a realistic chance of qualifying for the World Cup and vows his team will produce the goods by winning the Asia Cup next month.
“It is a must-win event and we will go all-out for it,” he said. “The opponents will be tough but they certainly are not invincible. We did well against them in the past as well.
“By overcoming our weaknesses like not missing goal-scoring opportunities, we can win all our matches in the tournament.”
The captain also advised against making major changes in the team.
“Few changes might be made but the current lot is the best available talent we have. I am also satisfied with the working of the team management. Our coaches Akhtar Rasool, Hanif Khan and Tahir Zaman are mentoring us well.”
Pakistan fall in world rankings
In the wake of the poor show in HWL, the Greenshirts fell two places to eighth in the global rankings issued by the World Hockey Federation (FIH) yesterday.
Germany head the table followed by Australia and the Netherlands. England are fourth while New Zealand are ranked fifth. South Korea and Spain – joint sixth – are the other teams ahead of the Greenshirts.
Belgium (9th) and Argentina (10) complete the top ten while India stood at 11th.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2013.
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