Hockey is Pakistan's only Olympic medal hope

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Bangalore, July 27: Hockey is Pakistan's main hope for an Olympic medal in London. Three-time gold winners and four-time world champions have slumped in international hockey and finished eighth at the 2008 Beijing Games, their worst position ever since the 1948 Games.

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In the 2010 World Cup held in India, the Pakistanis finished at the bottom of the table. The Asian Games gold medal at Guangzhou later that year, however, boosted the team's morale and gave them a direct entry into the Olympics.

The team fared poorly at this year's Azlan Shah hockey where they ended last, forcing the national selectors to recall veteran players like Rehan Butt, Mohammad Waseem and Shakil Abbasi who featured in a rebel hockey league in India, putting their places in the Olympic squad under threat. The highest scorer in the history of the game, Sohail Abbas, 35, was appointed the skipper of the team for the Olympics.

Saying captaining his country in the Olympics has been a dream come true, Abbas said the real test lies ahead now. He said if the Pakistanis can play as a team and fully utilise their skills, they can beat any team in the world. Abbas, who scored 19 goals in the 2000 and 2004 Games, missed the 2008 edition.

Pakistan, like India, have a rich hockey history and the Asian powerhouse has performed at all international tournaments. But currently it has been going through a difficult phase owing to problems related to management of the sports in general in the country and hockey talents in particular. London will be a big opportunity for the team to reclaim its glory at the mega showdown.

Pakistan Hockey Federation president Qasim Zia, who was a member of the team that bagged gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games said they were optimistic about the team doing well this time. Finishing on the vistory podium will be equal to winning the gold medal while finishing in the middle of the pack will make it worth the hard work that the team has put in, he said.

Pakistan won Olympic gold at the 1960 Rome Games (they ended India's dominance that year), 1968 Mexico City Games and the 1984 Los Angeles Games but their last medal came at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Their last WC title came in 1994.

Pakistan are clubbed with Australia, Great Britain, Spain, Argentina and South Africa in Pool A at the London Games. It will be a tough ask for the men in green to finish among the top two of the group to make advancements for a medal.

Besides hockey, the 39-member Pakistani contingent also features contenders in disciplines like athletics, swimming and shooting who got wild-card entries but do not have much serious medal hopes.

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