Karachi: Pakistan is planning to send a near full strength hockey squad to the South Asian Games to be held in India next month in a bid to restore some pride in the sport at home.
Around 45 players are presently training at the Hockey Club of Pakistan in Karachi under the supervision of coaches Muhammad Saqlain and Rehan Butt to prepare for the SAF Games to be held from February 5-16 in Guwahati and Shillong.
"Obviously we know only one match is important for us in the SAF Games and that is the one against India and we are preparing keeping that in mind," Saqlain told PTI. He said he was trying to get the players to get back to playing to their strength of natural hockey with skills.
"I get the feeling that if Pakistan is to become a force in world hockey again we need to work hard on our skills and using them in competitions," he added. Pakistan Hockey Federation has announced that the national whites squad will go to India for the regional meet.
Former Olympian Rehan Butt, who has featured in many memorable clashes with India, said that the idea was to pick a full strength side for the SAF Games to give India a tough fight.
"Presently we have around five to six players of the senior team that appeared in the World Hockey League last year and we have recalled three very good senior players for the camp," Butt said. He said the camp also included around 18 totally new youngsters who had not played for Pakistan as yet.
"The established players in the camp include Muhammad Irfan, Muhammad Rashid, Zohaib Ashraf, Hasim Khan, Arsalan Qadir, Ehsanullah, Ali Shaan, Imran Butt," he said.
He said the selected players would go to Islamabad on February 2 and from there they are expected to go to Shillong and Guwahati for the Games by an Air India chartered flight for Pakistani athletes.
"We know the Indian hockey set up has improved a lot and is getting stronger and we are ready for a tough challenge but we also know how important it is for us to do well as it would be a big boost to Pakistan hockey at this stage," Butt said.