Pakistan squad reaches India to play hockey World Cup


NEW DELHI: The Pakistan squad finally reached India on late Saturday night to play the 2018 Hockey World Cup after enduring torrid weeks leading up to the event as the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) struggled to arrange funds for the severely cash-strapped side.

Pakistan’s coach Tauqeer Dar told reporters: “We are completely prepared. The (Hockey) World Cup is our target and we have been preparing for it from the past 6-8 months. Our team is a combination of both senior and young boys. We have even recalled a few old players because the World Cup is quite tough and our group is actually a Pool of Death as it comprises of Germany, Netherland, and Malaysia and only three teams will qualify.”

Wishing all the teams, Dar added, “We have come to play hockey and make people enjoy this sport. I wish good luck to all sixteen teams to make this world cup a success and we want to spread a message to the entire world that India has organised a great world cup.”

When quizzed about the India-Pakistan relations, Dar said, “In sports, the relations are good. We have come to play sports, so we have relations in terms of sports, which are pretty good. Our players and their (Indian) players have the sportsman spirit and are even friends. our friendships stay on good terms only. Indian team is quite good. They are also worthy contenders to win the world cup as their team has also improved. I hope they do well.”

Despite having won four titles, the Pakistan hockey team will not start the Hockey World Cup as favourites.

For several weeks, it appeared as though Pakistan would not be amongst the teams competing at the 2018 Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneshwar, as discontent continued to grow within the squad over months of unpaid dues to players and staff. The PHF requested several national bodies to provide them with financial aid, but saw request after request turned down by the government and the Pakistan Cricket Board, who cited former unpaid loans as cause for rejection.

The PHF’s prayers were belatedly answered by Javed Afridi, the owner of the Pakistan Super League franchise Peshawar Zalmi, who provided the Federation with a sum of nine million Pakistani rupees to fund their trip to India. Pakistan Hockey Federation secretary Shahbaz Ahmed was quick to shower words of praise on his organisation’s benefactor, stating, “It is a big relief for us. Javed Afridi, who owns the Peshawar Zalmi franchise has signed the sponsorship deal to uplift Pakistan hockey on behalf of his company.”

Quick work from the Indian High Commission meant Pakistan were able to avoid visa complications, which had prevented the junior team from travelling to India for the junior World Cup in 2016.

While the state of hockey in Pakistan is a far cry from its glory days, there is no doubting the fact that Pakistan still pose a legitimate threat to even the best teams at the World Cup. The last few years have been difficult, but even at their worst moments, the Pakistan team has shown that they have serious quality and a good squad. A prime example of this was their performance in the 2018 Champions Trophy, where they finished dead-last but completely overwhelmed second-ranked Argentina in their only victory, beating them 4-1.

Pakistan have been drawn into a difficult pool featuring the Netherlands, Germany and Malaysia, where all four teams look like they have a shot at qualification. The Netherlands and Germany are favourites, but after having to go through so much to get to Bhubaneshwar, Pakistan will undoubtedly be looking to go all the way and add to their four titles, which came in 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994.

Pakistan begin their campaign against Germany on 1 December, followed by a match against Asian rivals Malaysia on 5 December. Their final group stage match will be against the Netherlands on 9 December.

PAKISTAN SQUAD: Imran Butt, Mazhar Abbas, M.Irfan Sr, Aleem Bilal, Mubashar Ali, M.Tauseeq Arshad, Tasawwar Abbas, Rashid Mahmood Ajaz Ahmed, Ammad Shakeel Butt, M.Irfan Jr, Rizwan Sr, Ali Shan, Faisal Qadir, Abubakr Mahmood, Umar Bhutta, M.Atiq Arshad, Mohammad Zubai.