M Rizwan Sr. has assured Pakistan will be a completely different outfit in Jakarta. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: Cash-strapped Pakistan field hockey team may not be the same powerhouse they once were, but the eight-time Asian Games Champions will be a completely different outfit in Jakarta, insisted captain Muhammad Rizwan Sr in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

“Last time at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, we lost to India in the finals and thus the easy route to qualify directly for the Rio Olympics Games,” said Rizwan Sr whose team is currently undergoing a month-long training camp in Karachi.

“Eventually, we had to pay a heavy price as we couldn’t get through to the Olympics from the tough qualifying round. We don’t want that to happen this time round.”

There was uncertainty over the Pakistan team’s participation for the Jakarta regional meet after all the players threatened to pullout owing to non-payment of daily allowance for the past six months.

 The foreign coach has brought in professionalism. What we are looking at is trying to get the prefect blend of Asian and European style of hockey.”

 - Rizwan Sr. » Pakistan captain 

However, Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) president Brigadier (retd) Muhammad Khalid Sajjad Khokkar, at the back of the new government led by cricket legend Imran Khan, put things to rest immediately by assuring to release the amount, mounting to Rs8 lakhs (around Dh23,800) per player, before the team’s departure to Jakarta.

“Yes, we were forced to put down our feet because finances are also a must to keep going,” said Rizwan Sr, whose team is currently being groomed by former India coach Roelant Oltmans. “Players need to be mentally at peace to perform well. We have been give the assurance by PHF and so the focus is now solely on hockey.

Since getting the Dutchman onboard, the team is on the right track and the results will come according to Rizwan Sr.

“The foreign coach has brought in professionalism and is putting a proper structure in place. What we are looking at is trying to get the prefect blend of Asian and European style of hockey,” he said.

“We haven’t changed our style of play completely but all that unnecessary dribbling is what we are avoiding. Our off-the-ball movement was always slow.”

Rizwan Sr added that a lot of work has been put on improving the player’s fitness.

“Physical trainer Daniel Barry has made us realise the importance of peak fitness and more importantly on how to conserve energy,” he said. “The team has also worked hard on the short corners. We missed a lot of scoring opportunities in the Champions Trophy and that’s another area we were working on.”

Pakistan have made four changes to the squad that played in the Champions Trophy. Faisal Qadir, Junaid Manzoor, Dilber and Ateeq Arshad have made it to the team at the expense of Aleem Bilal, Azfar Yaqoob, Arsalan Qadir and Irfan Jr.

“The decisions have been made after giving several players opportunities,” Rizwan Sr. “We tried a few players in the Commonwealth Games and some in Champions Trophy. I think Oltmans has kept a close watch on all the players and picked the right combination on the basis of their performances. I would say we are now a team of highly experienced, slightly less experienced and youth.”

Though Pakistan’s arch rivals India, having made it to the finals of the recently concluded Champions Trophy, are the firm favourites for the Asian Games, Rizwan Sr feels they are not the only threat to his side’s aspirations.

“No doubt India have improved and have been a good side for a while now but we cannot take any team lightly. Malaysia, Japan can also surprise and we have to play hard against all the teams,” said Rizwan Sr adding that Indian hockey has improved because of their league structure.

“Indian players have benefited tremendously because of their league and so their morale is high. They have been at it all the time in the last four to five years. Playing with professionals from around the globe have helped them to understand the European style of hockey well.”