Saturday, February 28, 2009

Zeeshan Ashraf set to skipper Pakistan

By Khalid Hussain

KARACHI: Seasoned defender Zeeshan Ashraf is all set to return as Pakistan captain in the five-nation Sultan Azlan Shah Cup to be held in Malaysia in April, writes Khalid Hussain.
Sources told ‘The News’ that when Pakistan will select their 18-man squad for the Azlan Shah Cup in the second half of March, Zeeshan is most likely to get a recall as captain.
The Quetta-based Zeeshan, who will celebrate his 32nd birthday on Saturday (tomorrow), led Pakistan in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing last August but was ‘rested’ for the four-nation Hamburg Masters in Germany — Pakistan’s last international assignment. Striker Shakeel Abbasi was appointed as captain for the Hamburg quadrangular last October.
Zeeshan was included in a list of 40 odd players selected in the preliminary squad for the Azlan Shah Cup to be played in Ipoh from April 6-12.
He is one of the senior most players in the pool and is all set to be recalled in the national team that will be selected after trials next month.
Also in contention for captaincy are former skipper Muhamnmad Saqlain, who has impressed team officials with his fitness during the ongoing camp.
However, Saqlain is infamous for his temperamental nature and it is more likely that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) will opt for Zeeshan as the Pakistan captain for the Malaysian tour.
Former champions Pakistan will join New Zealand (world No 7), India (11th), Malaysia (15) and Egypt (20th) in the Azlan Shah Cup. They will open their title campaign with a match against hosts Malaysia on April 6.
The provisional squad for the Ipoh assignment is currently preparing for the tournament at the National Stadium in Lahore.
Pakistan coach Shahid Ali Khan told ‘The News’ on Thursday that he and fellow coaches are working hard on helping the players improve their fitness during the ongoing conditioning camp.
He said that most of the 38 players currently attending the camp are undergoing strenuous training sessions and hoped that Pakistan will be able to raise a strong team for the Ipoh contest.
A total of 42 players were picked in the provisional squad but four senior players are unavailable for the Azlan Shah Cup because of their club commitments in The Netherlands. Drag flick ace Sohail Abbas, striker Rehan Butt, midfielder Waseem Ahmed and goal-keeper Salman Akber have been exempted from the training camp and the Ipoh assignment by the PHF.
Pakistan have decided to use the Azlan Shah Cup as a warm-up event for this May’s Asia Cup to be held in Dubai.
The Asia Cup to be played from May 8-15 will serve as the qualifying round for the 2010 World Cup in India. The new Asia Cup winners will earn a direct spot for the quadrennial spectacle.
“Our sights are set on the Asia Cup and all our planning is being carried out in a way that we take a team to Dubai that is good enough to win the title,” said Shahid, a former Olympian.

BJSS pull the plug on Tenaga

BPSS Juniors’ Muhammad Amirul Aided Md Arshad (left) takes on Setapak High’s Muhammad Aidil Zainal in their Malaysia Hockey League match at the Kuala Lumpur Hockey Stadium yesterday. Setapak won 3-1. Pix: MOHD YUSNI ARIFFIN

DOUBLE champions Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) brushed aside title contenders Tenaga Nasional 3-2 yesterday to remain on track for a glorious finish in Division Two of the Malaysia Hockey League.

Playing at the Tun Razak Stadium, BJSS -- made up of Under-17 players, drew first blood but allowed Tenaga to lead 2-1 before coming back strongly to seal the match.
Hairulnizam Maizan gave BJSS the lead in the eighth minute, but a brace from Sabri Mohamed in the 12th and 16th minutes, off penalty corners, gave Tenaga a brief lifeline.
Dangerous Lee Mathew re-ignited the fire in BJSS when he equalised from an acute angle in the 24th minute, and Fahed Saifullah sealed the match with a 62nd minute stinger.
"It was a close encounter, and the turning point was when Dangerous equalised. My boys started playing with more confidence, and we have moved a step closer to the title," said BJSS coach S. Prakash.
But Prakash said their work is far from finished.
"We still have eight more matches to play, and from what I have seen, Anderson, Olak and a few other teams have come in well prepared this year."
BJSS players were falling like ten-pins, as cramps hit them hard in the last 10 minutes of the match, indicating that their fitness is still not up to the mark.
RESULTS -- Division One: Bukit Jalil Sports School 3 Tenaga Nasional 2, Petaling Jaya City Council 3 Malacca 2, Kijang Mas 0 Batu Pahat 2, Olak 2 Anderson 1, Bandar Penawar Sports School 2 BJSS Juniors 0, Setapak High 3 BPSS Juniors 1.
Division Three: Matri 3 Temerloh 4, Nur Insafi 2 English College 0, Penang 4 Datuk Taha 3, TBSS-Tampin 5 Kuala Selangor 1, Selangor 2 Perlis 5.
TOMORROW -- Division One: Bukit Jalil Sports School v Anderson (Tun Razak Stadium, 5pm), Kijang Mas v Petaling Jaya CC (Terengganu, 5pm), Malacca v Bukit Jalil Sports School Juniors (Malacca, 5pm), Bandar Penawar SS v Batu Pahat (Bandar Penawar, 5pm).
Division Three: Nur Insafi v TBSS-Tampin (Sungai Petani, 5pm), Penang v Perlis (USM, 5pm), Datuk Taha v Temerloh (Tampin, 5pm), Selangor v English College (Pandamaran , 3pm), Kuala Selangor v Matri (Pandamaran, 5pm).