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Pakistan hockey slump prompts home despair

Aug. 21, 2008, 3:54 a.m. (ET)

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) Pakistan's worst-ever eighth-place finish in the men's hockey at the Olympic Games on Thursday prompted former players to attack the playing standard and call for an overhaul of the team.

"I am really feeling sad and have no words to describe this pathetic show," Pakistan's celebrated former Olympian Samiullah told the Associated Press.

Pakistan had reached at least the top four in 11 of the 13 Olympics it contested between 1948 and 2000, winning gold three times.

The eighth-place finish, from 12 competing teams, was confirmed Thursday when Pakistan was emphatically beaten 4-2 by New Zealand in the playoff for seventh place.

It was Pakistan's lowest ever finish in the Olympics. The previous worst had seen it twice finish fifth in the Olympics - at Athens in 2004 and at Seoul in 1988.

Samiullah, known as 'Flying Horse' for his mercurial play, had not expected much of the Pakistan team in Beijing.

"Frankly speaking I had no hopes of a medal from the team that was picked for the Olympics, but I was expecting Pakistan to finish at least at fifth or sixth place, not what they have achieved," said Samiullah, who was part of Pakistan team which last won an Olympic gold at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

Samiullah said weak defense caused Pakistan's downfall, conceding 17 goals in six matches.

"Our deep defense was nowhere near average, what to talk about good and excellent," Samiullah said.

Samiullah said the tactic of playing with only two attackers - Shakeel Abbasi and Rehan Butt - was not enough to break the strong defenses of opponents like the Netherlands and Australia.

He also advised the Pakistan Hockey Federation to start preparing for the 2010 Asian Games.

"The only way we can move forward is by saying 'thank you very much' to the senior players and start grooming youngsters for the Asian Games," he said.

Another former Olympian, goalkeeper Mansoor Ahmed, blamed Pakistan defenders and goalkeepers for letting the country down.

"Defense was seen nowhere in any one of the group matches and we kept on interchanging our two goalkeepers (Salman Akbar and Nasir Ahmed)," Mansoor said.

Mansoor, who saved a historic penalty stroke in Pakistan's historic victory in the 1994 World Cup final against Holland, said every Pakistani hockey fan would be disappointed.

"We only defeated Canada and South Africa in the pool matches because these countries are still going through the progressive phase in international hockey, but we have a name in international hockey which was badly damaged at Beijing," Mansoor said.

He also questioned the fitness of the Pakistan players throughout the six matches in Beijing.

"Our forward line was too slow in reacting," Mansoor said.

"I did not see any urgency in the forward line to pressurize opponent's defense, just because our players lacked in fitness and only occasionally they looked like threatening the opposition."

The eighth-placed finish meant Pakistan would miss next year's Champions Trophy, reserved for the top six from the Olympics.