Pakistan finished seventh at the recently concluded World Hockey League in Malaysia. The seventh place finish means that Pakistan has no hopes of qualifying for the World Cup next year in The Hague through the World Hockey League. The sole qualification hope for Pakistan is by winning the Asia Cup to be held in August in Malaysia.
This will be a stern test as Pakistan will face competition from Asian powerhouses in the form of India, South Korea and Malaysia, who all interestingly are vying for a place in the World Cup as they have also failed to qualify through the World Hockey League.
According to the new qualification format for the 2014 World Cup, the 12 positions will be filled by the hosts (Netherlands), five continental champions (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania) and the top three teams from each of the two World Hockey League semi-finals held recently in Holland and Malaysia.
Only continental champions will be given a place in the World Cup so Pakistan has to win the Asia Cup in August. The five continental championships are taking place after the World Hockey League, so if the continental champions happen to have already qualified, the teams finishing below the top three positions in the World Hockey League will be given the ticket to The Hague.
Pakistan have tasted success at the Asian level field hockey competitions in the recent past as the greenshirts won the Asian Games in 2010 and the Asian Champions Trophy in 2012. Despite this, they will be under pressure to perform well and win the Asia Cup in Malaysia. The three main areas of improvement for the greenshirts are fitness levels, defence and penalty corner conversion rates.
During the World Hockey League, the display of the Pakistani hockey team can be characterised as being inconsistent. It displayed flashes of utter brilliance and made the hockey aficionados in the country remember the golden era of the game in Pakistan, but unfortunately, these periods of brilliance were like an oasis in a desert of erratic hockey. The main reason for this inconsistent performance is the poor fitness levels of the players.
In addition, penalty corners account for the majority of the goals in modern hockey, so the penalty corner conversion rates can make the difference between two evenly matched teams. It was heartening to see the greenshirts successfully trying indirect routines in Malaysia, which is a rarity, especially under the helm of Pakistani coaches, but the team nevertheless need a prolific penalty corner drag flicker.
Defence has been a chronic problem for the greenshirts. The Pakistani defence line consists of a few main defenders, so it has been a persistent problem that the mid-fielders and forwards need to be more active in their defensive duties and also work on improving their defensive skills.
Two more problems were apparent in the defence in Malaysia. First, there was confusion over the first choice goalkeeper in the team, and second, Pakistan conceded a lot of goals from penalty corners so the defensive structure for these routines needs to be worked upon before flying to Malaysia for the Asia Cup.
Pakistan have an outside chance only if they play to their potential. Otherwise, they might end up finishing even outside the top three positions in the tournament. A 24-year victory drought at Asia Cup has to be broken for Pakistan to book a place in The Hague.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2013.
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