The ninth edition of the hockey Asia Cup begins today in Malaysia, with Pakistan battling to avoid disqualification from the World Cup.
In order to attain the objective, the national team’s task is to achieve the Asia Cup, as anything less would lead to their simultaneous exit from the global event next year.
Drawn in Group A along with Japan, Chinese Taipei and hosts Malaysia, Pakistan are set to meet Japan in their opening fixture today.
Group B includes India, Bangladesh, Oman and defending champions South Korea. India will take on Oman while the hosts meet Chinese Taipei in the other match of the inaugural day.
Pakistan have maintained a good record at the Asian level for the past few years, winning a gold medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010 and the title at Asian Champions Trophy last December.
However, the Asia Cup has not been a lucky event for Pakistan as the title has eluded the three-time champions since 1989.
“It’s definitely a tough challenge,” coach Tahir Zaman told The Express Tribune from Ipoh, ahead of the team’s opening match. “We have never missed the World Cup before and it is on the mind of every team member. We are under pressure to perform and win the title.
“The other teams excluding South Korea [already qualified] also face a must-win scenario so it won’t be easy going for us.”
‘Japan a tough side to beat’
The coach termed the opening game against Japan a tough encounter. “We’ll have to go all-out in every match as we are not in a position to slog. Japan are an in-form team as they played well against Korea and Malaysia at the Hockey World League recently.”
However, the Olympian said his team was ready for the tournament. “We have a good build-up with our wins over Myanmar and Bangladesh in the warm-up games where we accumulated 27 goals combined.
“On the eve of the match, we will make a thorough video analysis of Japan. We will also check our mistakes in practice games as other teams must have also watched our play.”
Butt fears consequences in case of failure
Meanwhile, former captain Rehan Butt is concerned about the team’s prospects of reaching the World Cup.
The seasoned striker, who is currently associated with the national U16 team as its coach, said the team’s failure to the win the Asia Cup will have a negative impact on the game’s future.
“Pakistan will be under pressure as they have not won the tournament since 24 years,” said Butt. “The team will face tough competition from India and Malaysia as South Korea are already through.”
However, Butt hoped that a balanced mixture of experience and talent in the team would ensure victory for the greenshirts.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2013.
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