Confident Pakistan eye Asia Cup

May 4th, 2009 - 8:11 pm ICT by IANS  

By Omar Khalid
Karachi, May 4 (IANS) Just three weeks after crashing to a morale-shattering fourth position finish in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, Pakistan flew back to Malaysia Monday hoping to lift their fortunes in the Asia Cup hockey tournament starting in Kuantan May 9.

Pakistan are desperate to win the Asia Cup - an event that they last won in 1989 - and confirm a spot for next year’s World Cup in India.

For that reason, the national hockey bosses have recalled four senior players including short corner specialist Sohail Abbas.

The team officials are wary of defending champion India and China, who are bracketed with Pakistan in Pool B of the seven-nation tournament.

Pakistan coach Shahid Ali Khan is looking for a couple of practice games to zero-on the winning combination for the Asia Cup.

The team plans to warm up for the biennial spectacle by playing practice matches against hosts Malaysia (May 5) and Japan (May 7).

Shahid, an Olympian, wants the four senior players, who are returning to the national squad after a long break, to gel with the rest of the players ahead of the crucial Asia Cup opener against Pool B rivals China May 9.

“We have a make-or-break opening game against China,” Shahid, a former Olympian, told IANS Monday just before the team’s departure for Kuala Lumpur.

“The outcome of that match will have a big impact on our Asia Cup hopes which is why we want our team to be fully ready for that clash,” he stressed.

Pakistan have recalled four senior players - drag flick expert Sohail Abbas, midfielder Waseem Ahmed, striker Rehan Butt and goalie Salman Akber - in a bid to boost their title chances in the May 9-16 Asia Cup.

Shahid and fellow team officials want their players to give their best against China - a team that has posed problems for Pakistan in recent years.

China stunned Pakistan in the 2006 Asian Games semi-finals in Doha and also won the last game between the two teams - a Test match on home soil last year - by a 4-0 margin.

“China is a tough team to beat,” said Shahid. “But we are preparing a strategy for the match against them,” he said.

Shahid is also hoping that his boys will avenge their 1-2 defeat against India in the Azlan Shah Cup semi-final in Ipoh last month by beating it in their Pool B clash May 10.

“For us, India is the team to beat in Asia Cup,” said Shahid. “They are playing really well but I believe that we can beat them this time.”

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