The Pakistan hockey team left for Malaysia yesterday to take part in the Azlan Shah Cup with a target of scouting out potential youngsters for the next year’s World Cup.
The six-nation tournament will be played from March 9 to 17 in Ipoh where the greenshirts will be up against defending champions New Zealand besides Australia, India, South Korea and the hosts.
The team will return to international action after lifting the Asian Champions Trophy in Doha last December, and according to captain Mohammad Imran, the Ipoh title was not its prime target.
“Our main aim in the event is to discover new talent,” the seasoned campaigner told The Express Tribune yesterday on the eve of the team’s departure. “If we manage to find two to four potential youngsters for our pool for the World Cup, it will be a successful tournament for us, irrespective of the results.”
The team management rested four senior players including Shakeel Abbasi, Mohammad Waseem, Rizwan Senior and Rashid Mehmood in order to test new players.
“Our team mainly consists of new players and we cannot put undue pressure on them by asking them for the title,” said the captain. “Our plan is to give our best in every match without taking pressure of winning the title.”
Pakistan will open their campaign against the defending champions on March 9 before facing favourites Australia the following day.
The greenshirts will meet arch-rivals India on March 12 and will play their last league matches against Malaysia and South Korea on March 14 and March 16 respectively.
The captain believes there will be no let up for his team in the tournament.
“All the teams are tough, particularly Australia and Korea. We also always have a pressure game against India. We have a young outfit and will have to work hard in every fixture.”
The captain said that although the players were ready, more practice matches were needed for the team.
“The training camp was productive; the practice matches were notably beneficial. But a few practice matches against the competing teams before the tournament will be crucial for our new players.”
‘Australia, Korea and India will be tough’
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s chief coach Akhtar Rasool predicted tough battles for his team in the tournament.
“It’s not going to be an easy challenge,” said Rasool before the team’s departure. “All the teams will be tough; we’ll especially have to keep an eye out for Australia, India and Korea.”
However, the coach said his team was ready to take up the task.
“The team is well prepared as the players underwent vigorous training in the last three weeks. We will give our best to yield good results in the tournament.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2013.