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August 18, 2019

Hope-inducing performance


August 18, 2019

Pakistan is brimming with volleyball talent, particularly at the youth and junior levels. Pakistan last Sunday finished fourth in the 16-nation Asian Men’s Under-23 Volleyball Championships held at the Wunna Theikdi Indoor Stadium in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.

Pakistan went 0-3 down against last edition’s silver medallists Japan in the bronze medal encounter.

Pakistan were touted as the favourites in the game but they could not live up to the billing.

They had lost the semi-final against India after taking 1-0 lead. Pakistan made some grave mistakes in that game, particularly in serves.

The Green-shirts had been highly impressive as they recorded six successive wins which put pressure on all the other teams that qualified for the knock-out stage.

In the preliminaries, Fahad Reza-led Pakistan topped the four-team pool with wins over Qatar, Bahrain and the eventual champions Chinese Taipei.

In the quarter-finals league also, Pakistan topped their group with victories over Sri Lanka and Australia to set up quarter-final date with Kazakhstan. Pakistan beat Kazakhstan 3-1.

It is the best result for Pakistan in the brief history of the biennial event. After skipping the first event in Myanmar in 2015, Pakistan finished sixth in the second edition held in Ardabil, Iran, in 2017.

It means that in the recently-concluded edition in Myanmar finishing fourth was a solid performance. But having qualified for the quarter-finals in a commanding fashion, Pakistan should have won the tournament.

The team did not have enough international exposure ahead of the continental event.

Iranian coach Hamid Movahedi, who worked with the boys for a couple of years, was not there in this tournament as his contract had ended.

Korean coach Kim Kyoung Hoon, who replaced Movahedi in May, accompanied the team. Kim is a good coach but I think the language barrier prevented him from guiding the boys effectively.

Pakistan paid the price for relieving Movahedi three months before the Myanmar assignment due to financial issues. Movahedi’s contract was assisted by Pakistan Sports Board (PSB). But Pakistan Volleyball Federation (PVF) exclusively bears the expenses of Kim. There has been no government contribution in this respect.

Pakistan must have a quality foreign coach for at least five years so that a fighting lot could be developed for future assignments. It could be done only through state patronage and corporate sector input.

The impressive performance of the under-23 team shows that these boys are the future of Pakistan. But they need constant international exposure. The credit of Pakistan’s under-23 team’s performance goes to Movahedi. He worked hard with the youth and juniors besides the seniors during his two-year stint as Pakistan’s coach.

Pakistan volleyball is on the rise. If we review the nation’s performance in the sport at various levels so it seems not a bad one.

In the 2018 Asian Games, Pakistan finished overall eighth in the 12-nation event but during the process the Green-shirts downed strong China 3-2 and India 3-1. Pakistan lost to Thailand 3-1 in the 7th place fixture.

In the 12th Asian Men’s Under-18 Volleyball Championships held in Tabriz, Iran, from June 29 to July 6, 2018, Pakistan, under the coaching of Movahedi, finished at the 11th place out of 17 nations. Soon afterwards, in the 19th Asian Men’s Under-20 Volleyball Championships held in Riffa city of Bahrain from July 21-28, 2018, Pakistan ended at the 14th place out of 23 nations.

Now Pakistan senior team is getting ready for the Asian Seniors Men’s Volleyball Championships to be held from September 13 to 21, 2019, in Tehran.

In the 16-team event, Pakistan have been placed in Group D with South Korea, Indonesia and Kuwait.

Pakistan will begin their journey with their fixture against South Korea on September 13. They will play against Indonesia on September 14 and Kuwait on September 15.

Pakistan finished seventh in the 1987 edition, which was their debut event, in Kuwait City. They finished fourth in the 1989 Seoul edition. Mostly Pakistan have either finished at the seventh or the eighth spot.

PVF should send the team a few days in advance to Tehran so that it could play a few matches with strong Iranian clubs.

Volleyball is the most crowd-pulling global sport. It beat the other Olympic sports as far as viewership is concerned during the 2016 Rio Olympics. If we want to develop the sport, we must launch a franchise-based pro volleyball league. And as soon as possible.

Our players need state-of-the-art halls for volleyball in all major cities of the country. If the infrastructure is there, the talent will be rightly trained for future national duty.

For the Myanmar assignment, Pakistan team had to train in the Rodham Hall of the Pakistan Sports Complex, Islamabad, which was not suitable for preparing national brigade.

Islamabad’s Liaquat Gymnasium is in an utterly bad shape. The PSB should try its best to make the Gymnasium ready so that Pakistan volleyball team could make solid preparations for future assignments.

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