Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Pakistan hockey coach Shahid Ali Khan believes that his charges will get two perfect chances this winter to put the national sport back on track after several frustrating years.

Shahid told ‘The News’ in an interview on Monday that Pakistan have ‘realistic’ chances of winning two international tournaments in France and Argentina later this year, adding that title-winning triumphs in the two events will be a shot in the arm for Pakistan hockey that has been struggling for survival in recent times.

“We have two very important tournaments coming up later this year and I must say that there are realistic chances that we can win both of them,” said the former Olympian.Pakistan, record four-time world champions, will be featuring in the World Cup Qualifiers in Lille (France) from October 31-November 8.

At number six in the world, Pakistan will be the top seeded team in the tournament that will also feature Japan, hosts France, Poland, Russia and Italy. The event’s winners will make the cut for the 2010 World Cup to be played in New Delhi in Feb-March.

Pakistan are firm favourites to lift the title in Lille as all other competing nations are ranked much below them in the international rankings. Later this year, Pakistan will compete in the Champions Challenge penciled in for December 6-13 in Salta, Argentina. The Greenshirts will join hosts Argentina, Belgium, Canada, China, India, New Zealand and South Africa in the event that will serve as a qualifying event for the 2010 Champions Trophy.

Unlike the Lille event, winning the Champions Challenge will be a tough task for Pakistan in the presence of Argentina, India and New Zealand. However, Shahid said that if his boys played to their potential, Pakistan can shine in Argentina.

“I must say that our team has achieved marked improvement by playing in the Asia Cup final and beating England in an away Test series this year,” he said. “The boys are hungrier than ever and with real hard work, we can do even better in the coming tournaments.”

Shahid, who took over as Pakistan coach earlier this year, said that winning the titles in France and Argentina will boost Pakistan ahead of the World Cup in India. “The events in France and Argentina may not be the World Cup or the Olympics but they are crucial events and by winning them, we can really lift our hockey,” he stressed.

Pakistan’s preparations for the Lille assignment suffered a hiccup recently when their training tour of Europe was hit by visa-related problems. The national team was supposed to play Tests in France, Poland and Belgium from September 24 but it seems that the tour will be scrapped because of a delay in the issuance of visas.

Shahid said that his team was disappointed by this setback but was quick to add that the boys were focused on the Qualifiers. “We really needed the tour of Europe,” he said. “But even if we are not going the boys will be ready for the qualifying tournament as we will play some warm-up matches before it,” he said.