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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Pakistan dreams of hockey glory
Rifat Jawaid
By Rifat Jawaid
BBC Urdu Service, in Athens

Pakistan's quest for an Olympic medal in field hockey has been dealt a severe blow with their team losing to Germany 2-1 in Athens on Sunday night.

German Christoph Eimer (right) dribbling the ball past Pakistan's Muddasar Ali Khan
A setback in their first match against Germany
Their players conceded two quick goals in the first half with the inexperienced Rehan Butt scoring the lone goal for Pakistan in the second half.

However, Sunday's defeat was not nearly as bad as the 6-0 battering Pakistan received at the hands of the same German team during a preparatory tour of Europe a few months ago.

Defeat in the opening tie notwithstanding, the morale in the dressing room remains high.

The players look determined and no longer seem to lack pace as compared to their European counterparts.

Pakistan's star player and penalty-corner specialist, Sohail Abbas, says the time is ripe for Pakistan to regain its lost pride in hockey.

The better team always wins and today that team was Germany
Pakistan star Sohail Abbas
"We lost to Germany but we are not mourning. Simply because we played with a plan and did everything right," he told the BBC.

"The better team always wins and today that team was Germany."

Long wait

Pakistan's Dutch manager, Roelant Oltmans, is optimistic too.

"I've no doubt that the boys will finally break the jinx of not winning an Olympic medal in hockey," he said.

Once clear favourites, the last time Pakistan won any medal in hockey was 12 years ago in the Seoul Olympics.

So the question is, what's gone wrong with Pakistani hockey?

Pakistan, along with arch-rival India, has won gold medals in hockey more than a dozen times.

But it was the replacement of grass with synthetic turf in the late 1960s that saw the demise of Asian dominance in hockey as players from the subcontinent found it increasingly difficult to match the speed of European players on turf.

Sohail Abbas (left) in a match against India
Pakistan's last gold medal came in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Before that it won the gold in 1968, the last time that the game was played on a grass pitch.

Like the national cricket team, Pakistani hockey players are notorious for being unpredictable on the field.

Who would have thought that a team with the likes of Sohail Abbas, Tahir Zaman, Mohammed Sarwar, and Mohammed Saqlain would concede 10 goals to New Zealand before mauling South Africa by a dozen goals?

The Pakistan team did just that in the Manchester Commonwealth Games two years ago.

Foreign help

However, a lot has changed since then.

The present team has a foreign coach and 10 players who have never taken part in an Olympic Games.

Oltmans' appointment last winter came in the wake of Pakistan's failure to win any major hockey title since 1994, when they won the Sydney World Cup.

Pakistan's hockey bosses may have been tempted by Oltmans' performance as Dutch team coach in the 1996 Olympics and 1998 World Cup, with Holland emerging champions on both these occasions.

Oltmans believes the exuberance of youth is what has been helping Pakistan perform well in the international arena lately.

Prior to Athens, Pakistan won a four-nation tournament in Spain.

But they still have a long way to go in these Olympics if they are to translate their medal hopes into reality.

Their next opponents will be Egypt, Spain and Great Britain.

Their fans both in Pakistan and abroad can only hope for a few resounding victories against these teams in order to lift the players' morale.

And knowing their unpredictable nature, it would be a serious mistake to write them off.

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