Why Pakistan will win an Olympic hockey medal: The Greenshirts have experienced a barren run in the last four editions of the Olympic Games but chances are good that they will end it in London next year On a breezy evening in Perth earlier this month, a previously under- achieving bunch of Pakistani hockey players finally shattered a myth. They achieved a feat that many of their critics thought was almost impossible. The Greenshirts conquered mighty Australia 4-3 in the final of a tri-nation hockey tournament in the Western Australian city. The triangular tournament that also featured India wasn’t a major event. It just took place after India requested hockey officials in Australia to include them in what was earlier planned to be a bilateral series between Pakistan and Australia. But even then it’s difficult to question the magnitude of Pakistan’s title-winning triumph. It surely was a low- profile event but beating Australia, by far the best-ranked hockey team in the world, in a final played in front of thousands of local supporters on Australian soil, is no small feat. The result should work wonders for Pakistan’s confidence and morale as they continue to prepare for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Pakistan have won three Olympic gold medals but their last title came way back in 1984 in Los Angeles. Since then, they have just won a bronze at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. The Greenshirts have returned empty-handed from the last four editions of the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing. Even the most diehard supporters of Pakistan won’t give them much chance of winning a medal in London. But personally, I believe that the Pakistan team is capable of springing stunning results even at the all-important Olympics. I’ve been saying it for a long time that with proper coaching and training, Pakistan can come at par with top teams like Australia, Germany and Netherlands. They’ve given glimpses of what can be achieved by beating Australia in Perth. Just last year, they gave another positive signal by regaining the Asian Games hockey crown in Guangzhou (China). They have a number of world-class players in their ranks like Sohail Abbas. The drag flick ace holds the world record for scoring the highest number of international goals. He may be in the twilight years of his international career, but Sohail remains as a scourge for international teams because of his goal-scoring prowess. Pakistan have players like their current captain Shakeel Abbasi. On his day, the mercurial forward can compete against the best in the world. Influential midfielder Waseem Ahmed is another top-class performer and has loads of international experience. Set to make his international comeback for next month’s Champions Trophy is seasoned goalie Salman Akbar. Having featured in the back-to-back Olympics in Athens and Beijing, Salman is one of Pakistan’s most accomplished players. He is also regarded among the world’s leading goalies. In Michel van den Heuvel, Pakistan have an experienced coach. The Dutchman celebrated his stint with Pakistan by leading the national team to the Asian Games title in Guangzhou last December. Michel, who has served as Netherlands’ national coach in the past, has certainly played a big role in Pakistan’s improved showing. Under him, even Pakistan’s otherwise brittle defence, has started to show some real spine. Of course Michel has the support of experienced coaches like Shahid Ali Khan. All said and done, Pakistan will have to work really hard in the lead up to the Olympics to enhance their hopes of winning a medal in London next August. They have certainly improved over the last 12 months or so but the fact remains that Pakistan are currently ranked at number eight in the world. They are lagging far behind Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and England. They are even behind Korea and Argentina. A lot has to be done. The good thing is that Pakistan’s hockey chiefs have already identified around 20 players from which they will form the country’s Olympic team. Pakistan’s next major assignment is the eight- nation Champions Trophy to be played in Auckland (New Zealand). Pakistan will be among the lowest-ranked teams in the competition perhaps just a little ahead of New Zealand, who have qualified for the event as hosts. A couple of good results in Auckland will further boost Pakistan’s morale which is on a high following the triumph in Perth. Pakistan have been placed in Pool A alongside top seeds Australia, Great Britain and Spain. Germany head Pool B that includes Netherlands, Korea and New Zealand. Unlike the past when the Champions Trophy used to be an elite six-nation event, a total of eight teams will be competing in the 2011 edition to be played from December 3-11. In the past, the event used to be played on a round-robin basis with the top two teams meeting in the final. In Auckland, the top two teams from each group will play in the semifinals before the grand finale on December 11. The fact that Pakistan will take the field in the event just weeks after beating Australia will certainly give them some psychological advantage. The fact that Pakistan have played close matches against Britain in the last 18 months will give them hope. And the fact that Spain’s performance graph has dipped in recent times should also boost Pakistan’s chances of making it to the last-four. After having flopped miserably in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008), Pakistan will have to give their best in the London Games next summer. A forceful showing in Auckland will certainly give Pakistan the sort of confidence they will need to achieve that target.
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