LAHORE: Fullback Zeeshan Arshaf will lead a 16-member Pakistan hockey squad at the Commonwealth Games starting next month in New Delhi. The green shirts will play their inaugural match against minnows Scotland. Zeeshan and right half Kashif Javed passed fitness tests on Tuesday and were included in the national outfit by the selectors. Zeeshan had a hamstring injury while Kashif twisted his left ankle during the recent training tour to Europe. Country’s main hopes for a medal are pinned on hockey and tennis. The green shirts are departing for India on Wednesday (today) for the October 3-14 event.
“It’s a very important event for us for which we have done good training in Europe,” Zeeshan told reporters. The 16-member strong team also includes experienced trio Waseem Ahmad, Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi.
Pakistan, who won silver at the last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, are in Pool A with defending champions Australia, Malaysia, Scotland and hosts India. The other group comprises England, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Trinidad & Tobago.
Pakistan plummeted to a worst-ever 12th place finish in the World Cup earlier this year at the same venue in Delhi where they will compete for the Commonwealth title. Reaching the semifinals looks a tough proposition for Pakistan. Zeeshan is hopeful Pakistan can do well in India. “Our first target will be to reach the semis, and if we are able to do that I am sure we can upset the best of teams in the race for the title,” added Zeeshan, who came out of retirement after the World Cup failure. Chief selector Hanif Khan is confident the demons of Delhi will not haunt the squad. “The nightmare of Delhi will not haunt Pakistan and I am confident that this team will reach the victory stands in the Commonwealth Games,” Hanif maintained.
Since the World Cup debacle, Pakistan has hired Dutch coach Michel van den Heuvel, who has set long-term goals. “The assignment I have been given is to prepare a strong team capable of winning the 2012 London Olympics, but my own assessment is that we need to target winning the other events as well,” van den Heuvel said. “No doubt we had a poor result in the World Cup, but our team have regrouped and the players are focused on doing well in the Commonwealth Games,” Zeeshan said.
Manager wants pro-active hockey: Team manager Khawaja Muhammad Junaid has urged the team members to demonstrate pro-active hockey at the Commonwealth Games. “We had good preparations for the games as we toured Europe and did fairly well in training camps in Pakistan and Holland. There is dire need to exhibit pro-active hockey in the elite tournament,” he said while talking to media yesterday. Junaid is appointed manager in place of Manzoor Junior who was not relieved by his department Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to take up the job. Junaid was optimistic about the showing of the team. “It is mix blend of seniors and juniors and obviously the selectors and team management have taken everything into consideration before finalising the squad as world’s best teams will be playing in the games,” he said.
Pakistan will open their campaign against Scotland on October 5 before taking on Malaysia (October 6), Australia (October 9) and archrivals India (October 10) in their remaining group matches. The top two teams from both groups advance to the semifinals. Classification matches and semifinals will be played on October 12 while the final and bronze medal matches will be played on October 14.
Squad: Zeeshan Ashraf (captain), Mohammad Imran, Mohammad Irfan, Waseem Ahmad, Mohammad Rashid, Fareed Ahmad, Shafqat Rasool, Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi, Abdul Haseem Khan, Mohammad Waqas Sharif, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Umar Bhutta, Imran Shah, Muhammad Tauseeq and Muhammad Kashif Javed. Officials: Khawaja Muhammad Junaid (manager), Michel van den Heuvel (coach) Ahmad Alam and Ajmal Khan Lodhi (assistant coaches), Faizur Rehman (physio) and Nadeem Khan Lodhi (video analyst).
The Daily Times