INCHEON: Pakistan are hoping to defend their hockey, women’s cricket and squash titles when the Asian Games open with a glittering opening ceremony at the state-of-the-art Munhak Stadium on Friday evening.
After Friday’s opening ceremony, the 17th edition of Asia’s biggest sports spectacular will see 42 nations battle it out for supremacy although Pakistan’s hockey and women’s cricket team would be looking to avoid the fate that befell the country’s football team when they lost their opening match to North Korea on Thursday.
The football competition at the Games began before the opening ceremony so that it can finish before the games close on Oct. 4 and goals either side of half-time by So Kyong-Jin and Jong Ing-Wan were enough to undo 10-man Pakistan in the Group ‘F’ match at the Hwaseong Sports Complex.
Football team loses opener to North Korea
Pakistan attacked Mansoor Khan was sent off in the 38th minute after receiving his second yellow card of the match for handling the ball inside the box and So struck the resulting penalty to give North Korea the lead.
Jong doubled North Koreans’ advantage with a diving header in the 67th as they progressed to the round-of-16 with a second straight win following their 3-0 win over China in the group opener.
Pakistan and China will clash in the Group ‘F’ finale on Monday to determine who will join North Korea in the knockout round.
By that time, Pakistan’s hockey team will have played two pool ‘B’ games in their Asian Games title defence.
Pakistan open their campaign against Sri Lanka on Saturday and head-coach Shahnaz Shaikh admits the green-shirts face a tall order to defend the title they won in Guangzhou four years ago.
“We’ve got a blend of youth and experience and it’s a good combination,” the veteran Olympian said. “South Korea and India are our main opponents in the gold hunt.”
India have also been bracketed with Pakistan in pool ‘B’ and the arch-rivals clash on Sept 25 with the green-shirts ending their preliminary stage matches with a game against Oman two days later.
Pakistan’s women’s cricket team, meanwhile, have a direct entry to the quarter-finals of the competition but although the men’s squash team have been drawn in tough group, captain Farhan Mahboob is confident of a good show in Incheon.
Pakistan, who beat Malaysia 2-0 in the team event final four years ago, have been drawn alongside Hong Kong, Kuwait, Qatar and South Korea but Farhan said recent performances give them hope of doing well.
“We are the Asian champions in both team and singles events at the moment so we’ve got bright chances of winning two golds here,” the 23-year-old said on his arrival on Thursday.
“The team recently won the Asian team title in Hong Kong and Aamir Atlas won the singles title in Islamabad earlier this year so I’d like to think we have a good chance if everything goes our way.”
“Besides Malaysia, Hong Kong and India are strong teams but we’ve trained well and confident about regaining our supremacy,” added Farhan, who has Nasir Iqbal, Farhan Zaman and Danish Atlas in his team.
Pakistan will also contest the women’s squash event with the team led by Maria Toorpakai. Muqqadas Ashraf, Riffat Khan and Samar Anjum are also in the team.
“Although the team isn’t so strong but we are looking forward to do our best,” Canada-based Maria, whose coach is former world champion Jonathon Power, said.
Pakistan also have good medal chances in judo, wushu, weightlifting and wrestling while they will also compete in the badminton, baseball, basketball, boxing, rugby, shooting, taekwondo, table tennis, tennis and volleyball.
Pakistan’s hopes in judo rest with Japanese-raised Shah Hussain who will continue his unusual quest for glory when he tries to add the Asian Games gold to Commonwealth Games silver.
Tokyo-based Hussain won the 100kg silver in Glasgow and is the son of Hussain Shah, Pakistan’s first Olympic boxing champion at Seoul in 1988.
“Japan has world judo champions, Olympic medallists and all of them have supported him, gave him some good tips,” Hussain Shah said on Thursday. “So I’m quite hopeful that he will show his talent in the Asian Games.”
Hussain and Pakistan will hope for more success in Incheon, where he is competing with Asia’s finest including some of his rivals from the elite Japanese circuit.
Pakistan’s kabaddi team, meanwhile, will be looking to improve on their bronze from the previous edition of the Games while the rugby team will arrive here on Sept 28 with the side placed in pool ‘B’ alongside Hong Kong, China and Philippines.
Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) chief retired Lt Gen Arif Hasan, Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) president Akhtar Rasool, secretary Rana Mujahid and chief selector Islahuddin Siddiqui also arrived here on Thursday for the opening ceremony.
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