‘Sohail, Akbar will boost Pakistan’s chances in Asian Games hockey’

November 3rd, 2010 - 4:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Karachi, Nov 3 (IANS) Pakistan’s hockey officials believe that the return of two senior players Sohail Abbas and Salman Akbar will boost their team’s chances of regaining the Asian Games title in Guangzhou (China) later this month.

Pakistan brought back Sohail and former captain Salman, a seasoned goal-keeper, as the selectors chose experience over youth in a bid to ’strengthen’ the national team for the Nov 12-27 event. Also back in the 16-man touring party is Muhammad Zubair, a mercurial left-winger.

Pakistan made three changes in the squad that slumped to a disappointing sixth-place finish in last month’s Commonwealth Games (CWG) in New Delhi.

Sohail, counted among the best short corner specialists of all time, was overlooked after Pakistan crashed to a humiliating last-place finish in World Cup 2010 also in New Delhi last March.

He was rejected as a spent force and kicked out of Pakistan’s plans for CWG and the Asian Games but the national selectors were once again forced to recall the veteran defender after their team failed to impress in the Indian capital.

Team officials believe that the return of experienced players like Sohail and Salman should improve Pakistan’s chances of regaining the title.

“Our team is certainly stronger now,” said team manager Khawaja Junaid.

“Goalkeeping is a very important department and should get a boost with Salman’s return. Sohail, too, is a very solid short corner striker while Zubair should be a good addition on the left flank,” added Junaid, a former Olympian.

Pakistan has flopped miserably in the last two major events of 2010 but Junaid is confident that his team can win the title in Guangzhou.

“Our target is to play to our potential and win the gold medal,” he said underlining the fact that the team winning the Asian crown will earn an automatic spot for the 2012 London Olympics.

“Our boys are working very, very hard and are really focused. Another important thing is that they have learnt their lessons and will not be repeating the same mistakes again.”

Pakistan got some good news Tuesday when it was confirmed that Sohail’s accreditation has been approved by the Asian Games organisers. Sohail was not part of Pakistan’s 30-man provisional squad for the event and the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) had to make a special request for his inclusion in the team.

“Sohail’s accreditation has been approved but he will still be needing a Chinese visit visa,” said Asif Bajwa, the PHF secretary. “Unlike our other players, he will now get the accreditation in Guangzhou and will travel to China on a visa,” he added.

Seasoned defender Zeeshan Ashraf has been retained as the team’s captain while Muhammad Imran will be his deputy.

Pakistan will leave for Guangzhou via Bangkok Nov 8 and will play two warm-up matches against Singapore (Nov 10) and hosts China (Nov 11) before the hockey event of the Asian Games gets underway Nov 15.

Pakistan has been bracketed with old rivals India in Pool B that also includes Japan, Bangladesh and Hong Kong. Defending champions Korea head Pool A that comprises China, Malaysia, Singapore and Oman.

Pakistan will begin their title campaign with an easy game against minnows Hong Kong Nov 17 and will then meet Japan the next day. The Greenshirts will clash with India in an eagerly-awaited encounter Nov 20 followed by their last pool game against Bangladesh Nov 21.

The Pakistan squad:
Zeeshan Ashraf (captain), Muhammad Imran (vice captain), Salman Akbar, Sohail Abbas, Muhammad Irfan, Waseem Ahmad, Muhammad Rashid, Fareed Ahmad, Muhammad Tauseeq, Abdul Haseem Khan, Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi, Shafqat Rasool, Muhammad Zubair, Muhammad Waqas Sharif and Muhammad Rizwan. Reserves: Imran Shah, Kashif Javed.

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