Pakistan entered the 2023 Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai with the focus very much on the Asian Games in Hangzhou later in the year. The team had an opportunity to compete against higher-ranked Korea, India and Malaysia in preparation ahead of the event in Hangzhou.
The team finished the round-robin fixtures with five points, beating China and sharing the spoils with Japan and Korea. The team ended its participation in the event, securing fifth place after beating China in the 5/6th place play-off.
Abdul Hannan Shahid in particular had a tournament to remember, bagging the emerging player of tournament prize in Chennai.
Head Coach Saqlain Muhammad gave his verdict on the team’s performance over the last two weeks.
You came into the tournament with a focus on the Asian Games. What are your takeaways from the event?
We have identified a few shortcomings in our play like our penalty corner defending and we will improve our fitness levels as well. Another aspect is the finishing. If you see, India and Pakistan created the most chances in the tournament, so improvements in our finishing and the confidence we gained playing under pressure in India will help us in China.
You had so many young players on your side. Any player in particular that impressed you?
Our drag-flicker Sufyan, defender Aqeel, Zakaria and Muhammad Ammad I think are wonderful players. Other than that, Hannan Shahid, Abdullah our junior team captain, they are really wonderful players. They know how to play hockey.
How many members from this team can we see at China? Will you be bringing back any senior players?
Yes, of course, more players will be added but mostly it will be members from this team.
Captain Muhammed Umar Bhutta also weighed in on his views of the tournament.
We saw against India as well that the Pakistan team started off aggressively, and the same with the game against China. Is this going to be Pakistan’s philosophy going forward?
From the beginning, we’ve wanted to play attacking hockey, but we haven’t been able to achieve much success in the important games. We couldn’t qualify for the semis, so we feel sad.
What learnings have you taken from the tournament?
In the case of learnings, we scored a few field goals against China, these field goals are important. We’ve learnt match-on-match and were able to score goals in the final game. In the last six to seven months Pakistan hasn’t played much hockey. The more we play the more the boys will learn.
Any shortcomings from the tournament you want the boys to focus on?
From my side, [I think] how to manage the whole match, you cannot play up and down all the time. You have to play as the situation demands, and being aware of that is an important thing.
You are drawn in the same pool as India in the Asian Games. How do you look at that game?
Yes, it’s an important game and we have to be prepared for that game.
India recently announced a sub-junior category. Do you think Pakistan must also bring in more sponsors and try to find young hockey players?
Yes, of course. This is a good step. We need to make hockey professional. Now, even if we win a tournament there is no prize money. For now, it’s not a commercial or a professional game. It’s a good thing that the young kids are coming up and effort is being put into the lower levels. The more people, the more popular hockey will become as a global sport.
How was your overall experience in the event here, in front of this crowd?
It is very nice to be here. The people are very good and they appreciate each and every team which is playing over here.
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