Hockey World Cup 2018: A long drought for Pakistan

Since it lifted the 1994 Hockey World Cup trophy in Sydney, Pakistan has failed to manage a podium finish in the competition they helped create.

Pakistan reached six of the first eight World Cup finals, but it hit a low when it failed to make it to the 2014 edition.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

The hockey World Cup was the brainchild of Nur Khan, the commander in chief of Pakistan’s Air Force, in 1969, with the inaugural edition being held in 1971 in Barcelona. Pakistan’s dominated the competition for a sustained period of time, reaching six of the first eight finals. But since it lifted the 1994 World Cup trophy in Sydney, the Green Shirts have failed to manage a podium finish in the competition they helped create.

Pakistan hit a new low when it failed to make it to the 2014 edition in the Netherlands, and it scraped through the 2017 Hockey World League Semifinals to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Former players Waseem Ahmed and Shahbaz Ahmed have made scathing remarks on the performances of the team, which has gone through three coaching changes in the last 10 months. Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans was the latest to leave the post of head coach – within just six months – citing an unsuitable environment for player development.

The team, coached by 1982 World Cup winner Hassan Sardar, was able to finish the joint winner with India at the Asian Champions Trophy in October, offering some respite to the cash-strapped Pakistan Hockey Federation.

But the squad lacks depth and has just three genuine midfielders – Muhammad Azfar Yaqoob, Rashid Mehmood and Muhammad Toseed Arshad. A weak defense and porous midfield have often left Pakistan exposed to counterattacks, but the side has a strong attack in the form of drag-flickers Aleem Bilal, Mubashar Ali and Muhammad Irfan Sr in the side. Striker Muhammad Irfan Jr has been the team’s most prolific scorer with 12 goals this year. His pace and trickery will be crucial for Pakistan inside the 16-yard circle.

Pakistan will fancy its chances against Malaysia, having beaten the Tigers thrice in four games this year. However, there will be tougher tests against long-time rival Netherlands and 2006 winner Germany.

Squad: Imran Butt, Mazhar Abbas, M. Irfan Sr, Aleem Bilal, Mubashar Ali, M. Tauseeq Arshad, Tasawwar Abbas, Rashid Mahmood, Ajaz Ahmed, Ammad Shakeel Butt, M. Irfan Jr, M. Rizwan Sr, Ali Shan, Faisal Qadir, Abubakr Mahmood, Umar Bhutta, M. Atiq Arshad, Mohammad Zubair.