Pakistan men hockey team’s five-match Europe tour was a mixed bag with the former world giants exuding a lot of promise against pretty competitive European teams such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. The Siegfried Aikman-coached Greenshirts kicked off their European campaign with an exciting 5-3 win over the Netherlands, only to go down tamely 1-4 in their second leg. Pakistan again came up short against Belgium, losing 1-5 but regrouped well to script an emphatic 4-1 win over Spain but lose the concluding tour game 3-5.
For a nation that is starved of international match exposure, the Europe tour was a great learning curve for the Greenshirts that comprised a relatively youthful and inexperienced side. Pakistan men’s hockey team Siegfried Aikman puts things in perspective about the stature of their opponents. “Most teams we have played against had players who played in the Pro League. It was a mix of established as well as young players and it won’t be fair to tag them as second or third-string sides,” he says in a chat with Hockey Passion.
The Dutch coach concedes that lack of regular international exposure has been a stumbling block for Pakistan hockey. “Pakistan did not play a single international game since the 2019 Olympic Qualifiers till the December 2021 Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka. Look at India, Belgium, Netherlands, they play a lot of international games in a year. More we play more we will get better,” he makes his point.
Aikman sounded satisfied with the team’s performance in the Europe tour. “Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement but the boys gave their best. The team slogged for four months for this trip – it is still work in progress. We scored 14 goals in 5 games and conceded 18. The manner in which Pakistan played against the Dutch and Spain augurs well for the future,” he says with a tinge of contentment.
He shares his perspective on when Pakistan can claw its way back as a world-beater. “Nothing happens overnight. India is a classic example, they failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics and settled for the wooden spoon at the 2012 Olympics. I was in India during the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi and I know the lows Indian hockey had hit. India took more than a decade to be among the top four. We will keep working hard and see it how it goes,” he reasons.
He calls a spade a spade when he asserts that not many teams are keen to play Pakistan. “See, all these top teams are not keen to play Pakistan because they run the risk of losing ranking points losing to a lower-ranked side like Pakistan. We have more to gain playing against top sides and they have more to lose.”
Aikman is realistic about what to expect from Pakistan in the upcoming Asia Cup. “We will strain every nerve to reach the semifinals and seal the World Cup spot but you never know as things can go amiss. At the Europe tour, there was no pressure of delivery but at the Asia Cup, there will be pressure of delivery and I would have to see how my team responds to pressure situations.”
The Pakistan coach is batting for resumption of India-Pakistan bilateral hockey ties. “The whole hockey worlds enjoys India-Pakistan matches. Pakistan is ready to play against India if invited,” he says.