KARACHI: Pakistan are planning to camp in London at least a fortnight before the 2012 Olympic Games explode into action on July 27 in a bid to give a final push to their preparations for what is the national team’s most important hockey assignment of the year.
Khawaja Junaid, Pakistan’s manager, told ‘The News’ on Thursday that the country’s hockey chiefs will try lining up a series of warm-up games in London ahead of the Games which will conclude on August 12.
Junaid, a former Olympian, said that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) wants to focus on training rather than international matches in the lead up the Olympics. With just over six months left before the Games begin, the idea is to help national players curb their weaknesses which were fully exposed by rival teams at last December’s Champions Trophy in Auckland where Pakistan finished seventh in the elite eight-team contest.
“What we want is to make it sure that our players overcome the various problems that have been haunting them, especially against top-rated teams like Germany and Holland,” said Junaid, who is in Karachi along with other team officials to witness the ongoing National Hockey Championship here at the Hockey Club of Pakistan.
“We were found lacking in various areas of the game like conversion of goals, short corner defence and the most important task for us right now is to curb those weaknesses,” stressed Junaid.
“We are planning to host training camps which will allow the coaches to work with their charges extensively.” Pakistan are expected to begin their final phase of Olympic preparations in Islamabad early next month.
Junaid said that top PHF officials will soon sit down with team officials including Michel van den Heuvel — Pakistan’s Dutch coach — to decide the final Olympic plans for the national team. “We are keeping all options open and will decide the final plans after thorough deliberations,” said Junaid.
Those discussions and deliberations are expected to take place on the sidelines of the National Championship over the weekend. After a hectic 2011, Pakistan have opted against stacking up the Olympic year with too many international assignments.
In May, Pakistan will feature in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh (Malaysia) where they will be locking horns with world number ones Australia, New Zealand, Korea, India and Malaysia.
Since they have almost made up their mind against lining up a full-fledged tour of Europe, the Azlan Shah Cup is likely to be Pakistan’s last international assignment before the London Games.
“But we are making plans to take the team to London around 15 days before the Olympic Games,” said Junaid. “It will help us acclimatize with the conditions there and perhaps more importantly will give the players an opportunity to train and play practice matches on blue synthetic turfs.”
The hockey matches of the London Games will be played on blue turfs, which experts believe will behave a bit differently from the orthodox green surfaces that are used for hockey games worldwide.
Junaid said that the PHF will try lining up practice matches against a few Olympic rivals besides sounding out leading local clubs for a couple of warm-up games. “It will be great if we can line up matches against teams like Great Britain and some local clubs because that will provide us with an ideal finish to our Olympic preparations.”
Most experts see slim chances for Pakistan winning an Olympic medal in London but Junaid has warned that teams will be taking his charges for granted at their own peril. “We may not be among the top teams but I must tell you that our boys can achieve major targets if they give their best,” he signed off.