Pakistan hockey have been slipping down the performance ladder largely because they have been starved of international match exposure. The Greenshirts have played very little hockey over the last two-three years – their last major FIH tournament participation was the 2018 World Cup at Bhubaneshwar, where they finished eight. Pakistan have not been part of the last two Olympics (2021 Tokyo Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics).
Under Dutch coach Siegfriend Aikman, the 2021 Asian Champions Trophy at Dhaka was Pakistan’s first international tourney in a long time. The record books would say Pakistan finished fourth in the tournament, but their brave performance despite the lack of international exposure did not go unnoticed. Pakistan played a sensational semifinal tie against South Korea, where they lost 5-6 in a tie that had numerous twists and turns. They gave a good fight to arch-rivals India in the bronze medal play-off tie, looking far more competitive than they were in their pool clash, where they sounded a bit lacklustre in their 1-3 defeat. Even in the pool stage, the Umar Bhutta-captained side drew South Korea 3-3 and settled for a goalless draw against Japan.
The upcoming two-week tour of Europe would help Pakistan obtain vital international exposure. Although the Pakistan Hockey Federation is yet to officially announce the tour schedule, it is learnt that Pakistan are expected to play a total of seven international matches against the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Spain over a two-week period. Clearly, playing against these top sides would be a great experience-gainer for the Greenshirts.
Siegfriend Aikman would be hope to get a fair assessment of where the Pakistan team stands on the world hockey stage and subsequently build on it so that they can come out all guns blazing at the Asia Cup and seal one of the available four qualifying spots for the 2023 World to be held in India at Bhubaneshwar and Rourkela around nine months from now.