KARACHI: Pakistan’s hockey chiefs have made up their mind to fully rebuild the national team after next month’s Asian Games regardless of how the players perform in the quadrennial spectacle to be held in Guangzhou, China.
The idea is to raise a young and strong team for the 2012 Olympic Games in London which is Pakistan’s long-term target.
“We will begin a comprehensive rebuilding process immediately after the Asian Games,” Pakistan’s chief selector Hanif Khan told ‘The News’ in an interview on Tuesday.
“We will have 18 months to prepare our team for the Olympics and will want to just persist with young players,” he added.
Hanif said that players like Pakistan captain Zeeshan Ashraf and former skippers Rehan Butt, Waseem Ahmed, Shakeel Abbasi and Salman Akber will have to go after the Asian Games even if Pakistan win the title.
“Regardless of how the team performs in the Asian Games, we will rebuild it for the 2012 Olympic Games. The senior players, who are already 30 or older than that, will be replaced by youngsters.”
Pakistan won the last of their three Olympic golds back in 1984 in Los Angeles and have since then experienced a dramatic slump in their performance at the international level.
This year, Pakistan crashed to a humiliating last-place finish in the World Cup in New Delhi in March and then returned to the Indian capital earlier this month for the Commonwealth Games only to finish a disappointing sixth.
In both the events, Pakistan relied heavily on senior players like captain Zeeshan Ashraf, midfielder Waseem Ahmed and forwards Rehan Butt and Shakeel Abbasi. But the quartet failed to live up to expectations, forcing the team’s critics to call for their axing from the national team.
However, the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has decided to retain them while chief selector Hanif Khan has opted to recall another senior player — Sohail Abbas — for the Asian Games.
Pakistan axed Sohail after the World Cup debacle but Hanif is of the view that the short corner specialist can help Pakistan win the Asian Games crown.
“Sohail is like a terror on the Asian circuit and can help us win the title in China,” Hanif said referring to the player’s goal-scoring prowess.
Pakistan are hoping to win the gold in Guangzhou not just because they want to regain the Asian Games crown but also because it will give them a direct spot for the London Olympics.
“We have to win the Asian Games at all costs,” said Hanif, a former Olympian. “It will help us qualify for the Olympics and give us 18 months to prepare our boys for the London Games,” he added.
Hanif will sit down with his fellow selectors and top officials of the Pakistan team later this week to decide the line-up for the Asian Games.
He ruled out drastic changes in the team but did hint that there could be around three changes in the squad. Sohail Abbas and experienced goalkeeper Salman Akber are almost sure to be recalled while there is a big possibility that striker Muhammad Zubair will also earn the selectors’ nod.
Hanif will be meeting Michel de van Heuvel, Pakistan’s Dutch coach, in Lahore ahead of the one-day trials to be held this weekend at the city’s National Stadium.
“We will take Michel’s input regarding the team for the Asian Games team,” he said. Pakistan will name their 16-man squad for the Asian Games on October 30.