ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) secretary Olympian Shahzab Senior has said that German embassy has granted visas to 16 junior and two officials for the 4-nation junior series to be held in Germany from 21.

Talking to The Nation, Shahbaz said: “We have dropped one goalkeeper Ali Raza and replaced him with Usman Ghani. Olympian Tahir Zaman is the head coach and Olympian Zeeshan Ashraf is his assistant. With the tireless efforts of PHF president Brig (R) Khalid Sajjad Khokhar, the German visas were finally issued. It will be a great opportunity for the U-18 players prior to the mega U-18 Asia Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh in September and the most important U-21 World Cup in India in December this year.

“The camp for the juniors started here at Pakistan Sports Complex and will continue for 15 to 20 days. It was PHF president brainchild to give top most priority to junior level, as they are the future of Pakistan hockey. I fully endorsed that idea which would bear fruitful results in near future,” he added.

Shahbaz said they had still around 6 months before the Junior World Cup and we have managed to gather around 150 players, who are mainly based on recently-concluded U-18 National Championship at Naseer Bunda Stadium. “A few of the newly-hunted players were also given chance, who could not participate in the national championship, as some of them were busy in annual examinations, but we, on our part, gave equal opportunities to each and every individual.

“Olympian Kamran Ashraf is the camp commandant and Muddasar, who just returned after completing FIH course in Malaysia, will assist him. The juniors will get great exposure while playing against the best in Europe. The World Cup is round the corner and it will be a great learning experience for majority of juniors when they will play against Germany,” he added. He said in the first phase, 16 players would travel to Germany, while in the second phase, the players will be taken to European tour in the last week of August.

Shahbaz confirmed that training camp for senior team would start from July 18 under the command of national coach Khawaja Juniad at either Lahore or Karachi, as national team is almost free from international fixtures after failing to qualify for the Rio Olympics. We have ample time to work on seniors but our main focus will remain giving top priority to grassroots level talent.”

He said he had never thought about witnessing such a raw talent in the 1st National U-18 Hockey Championship. “It was highly pleasant surprise for me and it further boosted my confidence that Pakistan hockey future is quite bright. It was one major area where no one paid heed in the past. Had the past managements worked on grooming juniors and provided them with ample opportunities, today situation could have been far different and better. Anyhow, I don’t believe in wasting time and energies on talking about past.

“I accepted the secretary slot with a challenge and I was pretty sure that I will transform the fortunes of national game hockey under the able guidance of Brig Khokhar. We have devised a long-term strategy and working on that plan. I am grateful to all the legends, who joined hands with us in this noble cause and giving us time to implement plans. The PHF chief and I are highly grateful to sports journalists, who highlight our weaknesses and give so much space and coverage for hockey events. It is my promise we will steadily accomplish our task to take Pakistan hockey back to old golden days heights, but for that we need full support,” he added.

“The government has issued funds and we are also working on areas to generate funds from private sponsors. We will soon announce marketing department and the PHF will be self-reliant in a matter of time. We want to generate funds through our own sources rather than looking at the government for financial assistance,” Shahbaz concluded.