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Saturday May 18, 2024

Warm-ups may set tone for hockey team in Birmingham

By Abdul Mohi Shah
July 24, 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan hockey team have left Islamabad in the wee hours Sunday to figure in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games where they will play two warm-up matches ahead of the first scheduled Group A match against South Africa.

Pakistan will be seen in action against Wales on July 25 and the next day against Ghana to get acclimatized for the prestigious event where the best of teams are waiting for them.

“We are to play Wales on 25th and a day later against Ghana. The African nation is new to international hockey, but they are as good as South Africa are.

Recently Ghana came very close to beating South Africa. Former Pakistan international Ghazanfar Ali coaches Ghana.

It is on his request that we have arranged a warm up match against the team placed in Group B,” a team official when contacted, said.

Apart from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland are other teams in the Pool while pool B will see England, India, Canada, Wales, and Ghana in action.

Pakistan are to play their opening match against South Africa on July 30 followed by the all important match against New Zealand on July 31.

The victory against New Zealand would put Pakistan on road to semis provided they get off to a winning start against South Africa.

Pakistan men finished second in 2006 and would dearly love to get on the podium again. The national team has dropped off in recent years from their heady days in the 1970s and 80s. They managed to win gold at the Asian Champions Trophy in 2018 but that was their last significant win. While a lack of recent international experience might be a problem, led by experienced Head Coach Seigfried Aikman, the team is expected to be competitive in every match they play.

In Commonwealth Games 22nd edition, 4,600 athletes from 72 nations and territories will be participating in the English city of Birmingham in the event known as the Friendly Games.

Hockey has been played at the Games since 1998 and in that first year it was Australia who dominated, winning gold in both the men’s and women’s competitions.

Potentially one of the most exciting teams to arrive in Birmingham is the South Africa men’s team. The side set the Tokyo Olympics alight in 2021 with their dazzling speed and courage to take chances in attack.

Their opening match against Pakistan on July 30 would not be an ordinary outing.

The Kookaburras have won the title an unbeaten six times, with New Zealand, Malaysia, India and Pakistan sharing the silver medals between them.

With Australia men sitting at number one in the FIH World Rankings and with the memory of a fantastic campaign at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 -- in which they lost on shoot-out to Belgium, it would be a clear indication that Head Coach Colin Batch and his team are firm favourites for a super seventh gold medal.

New Zealand men have not had the intense international calendar. But Test matches against Australia and the Netherlands will have certainly sharpened their skills and minds.

Host nation England must be going into this event hopeful of medals for both men and women categories. The England men’s team showed enormous potential in the FIH Pro League with some exciting and close matches, including a 2-2 draw with Belgium and a thrilling 4-3 narrow defeat to India.