Sunday, October 18, 2009


While Malaysia opted to leave out experience over youth, Pakistan recalled four experienced players, who had missed the recently-concluded national training camp in Lahore because of club commitments in Europe to strengthen the side that has to win the Lille Qualifiers to ensure that the record four-time world champions confirm a place for the 2010 tournament.

Former Pakistan captain Waseem Ahmed, Rehan Butt, Salman Akbar and Abbas Haider proved their fitness in the one-day trials held at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore on Friday and were selected for the Lille assignment. Youngsters Sibtain Raza and Zeeshan Ali were axed to make room for the senior players in the squad.

"It is the best possible team we can field in the Qualifiers," Shahid Ali Khan, the team's coach, told 'The News' from Lahore. "It has some very experienced players who will have the support of various talented youngsters, who have graduated from the (national) junior team," he added.

Shahid said that the Qualifiers is the last opportunity for Pakistan to avoid the ignominy of not making the cut for the World Cup, adding that his boys cannot afford to waste it. "It is our last chance," he said. "We have to win the qualifying tournament at any cost and I'm confident that the boys are capable of doing that."

Pakistan came agonisingly close to earning an automatic berth for the World Cup when they reached the Asia Cup final in Malaysia early this summer only to lose a close encounter against Korea. From Asia, just the number one team gets a direct berth in the World Cup.

Pakistan are seeded to win the Lille Qualifiers to be played from October 31 to November 8.

They face Japan, hosts France, Poland, Russia and Italy in the tournament.

Nine teams, including hosts India, have already earned qualified for the World Cup while the winners of the three qualifying rounds will join them in the 12-nation World Cup to be played from February 28-March 13.

Chief selector Hasan Sardar is confident that the Greenshirts will shine in Lille.

"Our team includes some very talented players and I'm confident that they will win the qualifying rounds," said Hassan, a former Olympian.

Following the trials, the training camp has been dispersed but there has been a change in the team's plan. The team might not leave for Europe this weekend and could resume training for a few days before flying out for France next week.

Pakistan squad: Zeeshan Ashraf (captain), Salman Akbar, Nasir Ahmed, Sohail Abbas, Mohammad Imran (vice-captain), Mohammad Irfan, Waseem Ahmed, Sajjad Anwar, Fareed Ahmed, Mohammad Rashid, Rehan Butt, Shakil Abbasi, Abdul Haseem Khan, Abbas Haider, Akhtar Ali, Waqas Sharif, Shafqat Rasool and Mohammad Zubair.