"Pakistan's decline should stop somewhere," says coach ahead of India-Pakistan Hockey Asia Cup clash
The Bridge spoke exclusively to Pakistan team hockey coach Seigfried Aikman who is looking to guide Pakistan – the old wizards of world hockey – on the path towards an Olympic medal.
After guiding Japan to their first-ever Asian Games gold, coach Siegfried Aikman looked on as the Olympic hosts came back from two goals down to lead mighty Australia 3-2 at halftime in their Tokyo 2020 opener.
Kenta Tanaka scored one from open play a couple of minutes before the long breather to raise hopes of a miracle that wasn't to be.
The Kookaburras came into their own in the second half to score three goals that sealed the fate of the hosts. A narrow 1-2 defeat against Rio Olympic champions Argentina and a creditable 2-2 draw against New Zealand, notwithstanding, Japan was left with just the lone point to show for their efforts at the end of the group stage.
It was a cruel end to Samurai Japan's campaign in Tokyo and the points tally was possibly not reflective of just how well the Asian Games champions performed under the tutelage of FIH Master Coach Siegfried Aikman.
Over the course of an interaction ahead of the Men's Asia Cup that begins with the all-important India-Pakistan encounter, Aikman lamented the lack of an Olympic medal amongst the list of achievements against his name and told The Bridge that was looking to guide Pakistan – the old wizards of world hockey – on the path towards an Olympic medal.
"When I look back at my stint in Japan, I think I achieved almost everything – but not the most important one. I did not win a medal in the Olympics. We went out in the group stage. We were not used to opponents who are determined to do anything to win and that is something we could not copy in our practice matches because we only could practice against each other due to COVID. We had no Pro League. There I realized the importance of international exposure at the highest level."
"Secretly I wanted to win a medal. With Pakistan, I have a second chance to do the same and I will go all out to achieve it."
"India is doing well but Pakistan is declining continuously and it should stop somewhere"
Aikman also cited sentimental reasons for choosing to work in the Indian subcontinent but resurrecting the game in Pakistan remains his primary focus.
"My ancestors are from the Indian subcontinent. They came from undivided India. There were some sentimental reasons for coming to Pakistan."
"The second reason is that I think Pakistan should be competitive. World hockey needs both India and Pakistan to lead in hockey. India is doing well but Pakistan is declining continuously and it should stop somewhere. I hope that I am able to stop it and start reviving it and make Pakistan become promising again."
Reviving hockey in Pakistan is far from a simple task as Aikman feels the results of the 2018 World Cup and the Olympic qualifiers do not convey the degree to which the standard of hockey has plummeted in the once hockey-crazy country.
At the Olympic qualifiers against the Netherlands in 2018, Pakistan very nearly upset the Dutch in the first leg. Mink Van der Weeden's PC goal at the death helped the Netherlands salvage a 4-4 draw, but Max Caldas' team stormed back in the second leg to wallop the three-time Olympic champions 6-1.
Aikman, however, is far from impressed by Pakistan's occasional heroics against the top teams.
"For me, it's about getting your results. Yes, it's attractive how we play. We attack and we score a few field goals and we work hard. We give the opponent some hard times but in the end, we lose. In the end, you don't get a result. That's the part which takes time and that's where consistency comes in."
"For me, you're a good team if you can do it regularly as Belgium does. Yes, Pakistan can surprise. But, we can never do it consistently."
The Dutchman opines that India too are struggling with their consistency following a disappointing third-place finish in the Asian Champions trophy.
"For me, India too is not yet there. There won an Olympic bronze but now they have to show consistency. At the Asian Champions Trophy – the first tournament after the Olympic Games - they failed."
The Indians have opted to field a young and inexperienced side for the eleventh edition of the Asia Cup while the regulars prepare for the FIH Hockey Pro League matches coming up in Europe.
Pakistan last beat India at the SAF Games in 2016 and have lost to their traditional rivals 12 times thereafter even as Mubashar Ali's lethal last-minute PC ensured that the four-time World Cup winners earned a draw in 2018.
Thanks to the recent juggernaut of wins, the Indians are closing in on Pakistan with regard to the head-to-head stats that now read 82-64 in favour of the green shirts.
Pakistan will possibly have more than one chance to break their India jinx because the top two teams from each group will play a round-robin Super 4s in the second round of the Asia Cup.
Both the continental giants find themselves in Group A and will need to finish ahead of Japan and hosts Indonesia in order to make it to the Super 4 stage.
The Indians will automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup as hosts, but Siegfried Aikman will need to make sure that the most successful team in World Cup history stands atop the podium in Jakarta to qualify for a tournament which they have won 4 times in the past.
"My aim is to qualify for the World Cup and I will do everything to achieve it."
Whether or not the Dutchman's dream is realized remains to be seen, but hockey fans are in for a treat as the two powerhouses of world hockey lock horns for the 178th time in history on May 23.