KARACHI: Sidelined for almost two years on the basis of ‘poor fitness’ and ‘under-performance’, experienced goal-keeper Salman Akbar made his way back to the national team for the upcoming Asia Cup.
The Pakistan Hockey Federation’s (PHF) team management yesterday named the 18-player squad for the continental event to be played from August 24 in Ipoh, Malaysia.
The tournament that will also see India, Korea and Malaysia in action is a must-win tournament for the green-shirts to book their place in the next year’s World Cup.
National coach Tahir Zaman said the team management worked hard to select the best available lot of players for the crucial task. Mohammad Imran has been retained as captain for the squad that saw three changes in the team that participated in the Hockey World League (HWL). The green-shirts finished seventh in the eight-nation tournament, missing an opportunity to qualify for the World Cup.
Goal-keeper Imran Shah and Mohammad Ateeq were dropped after they failed to impress the coaches while Mohammad Rizwan Senior, who fractured his thumb during the training camp, will also miss the event.
Apart from Akbar, seasoned campaigner Waseem Ahmed also returned to the squad after missing the HWL due to an accident.
Coach hopes for solid defence under Akbar
Zaman hoped Akbar’s return will bring a significant improvement in the team’s defence.
“Defence is the department we have been struggling with,” Zaman told The Express Tribune. “Salman is an experienced goal-keeper and has been playing in the Dutch League for a while.
“We made a thorough assessment on his fitness and performance before selecting him. He proved he is better than his compatriots and still has sharp reflexes.”
The former Olympian played down the impression that the team management was solely banking on senior players for the important event.
“We have also picked fresh players from junior teams like Dilbar Hussain and Ali Shah so it’s a mix of youth and experience,” he said.
Mohammad Imran (captain), Waseem Ahmad,
Rizwan Junior, Salman Akbar, Imran Butt, Muhammad Irfan, Muhammad Tauseeq, Rashid Mahmood, Shafqat Rasool, Shakeel Abbasi, Dilbar Hussain, Umar Bhutta, Fareed Ahmad, Amir Shahzad, Abdul Haseem Khan, Waqas Sharif, Muhammad Zubair, Ali Shan