'I believe we can beat India, the 7-1 win at Delhi in 1982 was most memorable' says Pakistan coach Hassan Sardar  

Can Hassan Sardar bring back the glory days for Pakistan?
Can Hassan Sardar bring back the glory days for Pakistan?

What sounds like music to one's ears might well seem much like a raucous cacophony to another.

As a child, Indian coach Harendra Singh was so dismayed by what transpired in the 1982 Asian Games final that he decided to pursue hockey in a quest to avenge the ignominious defeat.

Hundreds of other Indian kids who watched the match live - or heard about the defeat as they grew up, may have failed to follow Harendra's footsteps but fantasized about achieving the same objective.

Hassan Sardar - the hero of 1982

At the other end of the spectrum, Harendra's opposite number in the Pakistan camp - Hassan Sardar was well and truly present on the pitch on that momentous December afternoon in New Delhi - what's more, he scored a hattrick, in spite of nursing a hamstring injury, and along with stalwarts like Hanif Khan and Kaleemullah, vanquished the Indians in a manner that was stupefying, to say the least.

"Our win in the 1982 Asian Games final was the most memorable one for me," says the brilliant center-forward who catapulted Pakistani hockey to dizzying heights of glory during his heyday.

If truth be told, it was the margin of defeat in the final that shell-shocked the Asiad hosts, and not so much the defeat itself - since Pakistan was a rampaging side back then who had won their second successive World Cup at Bombay (now Mumbai), the same year, and had also beaten India 4-0 to win the inaugural Asia Cup.

Pakistan's title triumphs in the World Cup, the Asia Cup, and the Asian Games in 1982 were spearheaded by the exploits of one man who ended up as the top scorer in all three tournaments - not for nothing, has Hassan Sardar been ranked as one of the ten best hockey players of all time.

In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, the man who captained Pakistan right to the summit at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and has now donned the mantle of a coach, dwells on the achievements of his predecessor Roelant Oltmans and regrets the Dutchman's sudden exit.

"Roelant's decision to quit was shocking"

"We were mentally prepared that Roelant would continue until the World Cup. His decision to leave was shocking for us but Roelant had his own problems. He worked hard and I do appreciate his work. He did a good job with the Pakistan team and the team has come up as a result."

Hassan Sardar in action at the Delhi Asiad final as Indian goalkeeper Mir Ranjan Negi attempts a save
Hassan Sardar in action at the Delhi Asiad final as Indian goalkeeper Mir Ranjan Negi attempts a save

"The win was good but what happened after was uncalled for"

Pakistan beat the hosts to win the 2016 SAF Games in Guwahati but the last they time they visited India for a big-ticket event was way back in 2014 during the Champions Trophy.

Muhammad Arslan Qadir scored a brace to help his side beat India by a 4-3 margin in the semifinal but what Indian fans remember distinctly to this day are the wild and rather unruly celebrations which the Pakistan team indulged in following the win by gesturing indecently and obscenely towards the vociferous Bhubaneswar crowd.

Coach Shahnaz Sheikh did offer an apology which Hockey India deemed was inadequate and demanded that the guilty players be punished. As a result, Muhammad Tousiq and Ali Amjad were served suspensions before Pakistan's final against Germany.

Ahead of the World Cup which is to be played at the same venue, Pakistan's present coach feels that the incident was unfortunate.

"The win was good but what happened after that was uncalled for and there were misunderstandings. Playing in India, the crowd will always support the home team which will be an advantage to them, so the only thing I tell my players is to play well and score goals."

The long-term implications of the post-match celebrations resulted in Pakistan players not being allowed to take part in the Hockey India League.

Pakistan did not send a team to the Junior World Cup in Lucknow in 2016 and alleged that they were not allowed to take part as a fallout of the Bhubaneswar incident, although officially, the FIH withdrew the invitation after no confirmation was received from the Pakistani side.

As per Hassan Sardar, the Pakistan camp is going ahead with the visa process for the World Cup via an agency they have used in the past as well.

"All the players are excited are looking forward to coming to India to take part in the World Cup as Indian hospitality is remarkable."

As far as the Asian Champions Trophy is concerned, the Pakistan coach is not totally convinced that the tournament is an ideal preparatory for the World Cup, given the scheduling.

"Well, the Asian Champions Trophy is like a mini-World Cup for Asia and is a platform to prepare for the World Cup as far as analyzing other teams is concerned but had it been scheduled 15 days earlier, we could have benefited from the tournament."

Historically, Pakistan has enjoyed a distinct advantage as far the overall head-to-head records are concerned especially in big tournaments and knock-out games but ever since the Asian Champions Trophy final of 2016, there has been a dramatic change in the script.

Mubashar Ali's controversial last-minute goal ensured that Pakistan managed a last-gasp draw against their arch-rivals at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, but lost to the Indians by huge margins in the Hockey World League Semifinals at London and also at the Asia Cup last year.

More recently, at the Champions Trophy opener at Breda, the Indians came out on top convincingly and did so in the Asian Games bronze-medal match as well.

So, is the present Pakistan team capable of beating India?

"I definitely believe we can beat India," says Hassan Sardar. "Even at the Asian Games, we had our chances but couldn't take them while India converted their PCs."

For a man who was the livewire of a Pakistan team which beat the Indians - and the worlds' best teams convincingly ever so often during their glory days, it must indeed be disheartening to accept the current state of affairs.

"We can improve in terms of fitness," says Hassan Sardar, but as a coach, can he transform the fortunes of a team that is currently languishing at No. 13 in the FIH World Rankings?

Well, Pakistan has begun well, beating South Korea 3-1 and the Indians are up next - the acid test begins.

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Edited by Raunak J
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