Pakistan announce World Cup hockey squad

LAHORE: Pakistan''s selection panel Saturday announced an 18-man hockey squad to compete in the World Cup, which will be held from February 28 to March 13 in New Delhi, India.

Full-back Zeeshan Ashraf will lead the team while centre-half Mohammad Imran will be his deputy in the tournament.

The four-time world and three-time Olympic champions have not won a major title since their World Cup win in Australia in 1994. They finished eighth -- their worst ever result -- at the Beijing Olympics.

Pakistan had to participate in World Cup qualifying rounds in France last year, the only time they had to go through qualification because of their low rankings.

Pakistan are in Group B along with Australia, England, India, South Africa and Spain. They play their first match against arch-rivals India on the opening day.

Defending champions Germany, Argentina, New Zealand, the Netherlands, South Korea and Canada form Group A.

Olympic gold medal winner of the 1986 team, Shahid Ali Khan, will coach the team, while Asif Bajwa will be its manager.

Doubts were raised over the hockey team''s participation in the World Cup after Pakistani cricketers were snubbed at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction last month.

But Pakistan''s government categorically said the team would not boycott the World Cup despite calls from former players to shun the event in protest at the IPL controversy.

Pakistan introduced the World Cup trophy in 1971. They won the title in the inaugural year before getting it again in 1978, 1982 and 1994.

Squad: Nasir Ahmad and Salman Akbar (goalkeepers), Zeeshan Ashraf, Sohail Abbas and Muhammad Rashid (full-backs), Mohammad Irfan, Waseem Ahmad, Mohammad Imran, Fareed Ahmad and Sajjad Anwar (halves), Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi, Abdul Haseem Khan, Mohammad Zubair, Akhtar Ali, Omer Bhutta, Abbas Haider and Muhammad Rizwan (forwards).