Pakistan eying podium finish at Asia Hockey Cup to secure World Cup berth

Pakistan, Malaysia hockey match ends in a draw
Pakistan, Malaysia hockey match ends in a draw

ISLAMABAD, May 19 (APP): National hockey team manager Olympian Khawaja Muhammad Junaid has said that qualifying for the next year’s World Cup would be the key objective for his side at the Asia Cup.

“The top three teams will secure berths in the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup in India in 2023. Hence, we are focused only at a podium finish at the event,” Junaid told APP on phone before flying to Indonesia along with the Pakistan team on Wednesday night.

The 11th edition of the eight-team continental hockey competition is set to be staged at Gelora Bung Karno Sports Complex, Gelora, Central Jakarta from May 23 to June 1. Pakistan, who reached at the event site three days ahead of the tournament on Thursday, will face arch-rivals India in their opening match.

Pakistan have been placed in Pool A, along with India, Japan, and the hosts Indonesia. Pool B includes South Korea, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Oman.

“We are in a comparatively tough pool. Our first fixture is against India, who’ve played around 100 international matches during the past three years, while during the same period we’ve just played seven to eight matches against the world’s best sides, including the recently-held five-match Europe series.”

“But we’ve been working really hard for the last four months. I think our team is in good shape and ready to perform at the big stage,” he added.

He said during the Europe tour Pakistan Hockey Federation gave a chance to young guns and the experience had been very good. “Our seven players made an international debut during the Europe tour. These young guns lived up to the expectations.

They along with senior players performed well and proved that they were capable of beating any side in the world. Six of them [young players] are part of our 20-member contingent for Asia Cup.

“Our players have the pace, temperament and the passion to win. They also possess good skills. But they need to learn consistency. They’ll have to guard against a pompous mentality otherwise there may be a win on the first day and loss on the second day as happened during the Europe tour.”

According to Junaid, all in all the Europe tour had been very helpful as it helped in identifying team’s strong as well as weak areas.

“At the camp in Lahore [after the Europe tour], head coach Sigfried Aikman has done his best to help the team plug in loopholes in the grey areas. He is also well aware of the techniques of Indian and Japanese teams and has devised the strategy accordingly to face them in the Asia Cup.”

He said modern hockey had become very fast and the players had been asked to play aggressively right from the beginning. “The players are excited to deliver. The Asia Cup will also help us see the level where they are at the moment. We are keen to see whether they can execute the style of play that we’ve envisioned for them or not,” he added.

In their second match, the Green Shirts will take on Indonesia on May 24. They will meet Japan on May 26 in their third match.

Both Pakistan and India have won the Asia Cup three times. Pakistan lifted the title in 1982, 1985 and 1989, whereas India won it in 2003, 2007, and 2017. South Korea is the event’s most successful team, claiming the title in 1994, 1999, 2009, and 2013.