Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

In the case of any sporting event between India and Pakistan, it is not just competition but a rivalry that always goes down the books by producing some memorable encounters in history. Despite this hostility, love and friendship between the neighbours is always a joy to watch.

Pakistan, often tipped as a 'dark horse' in hockey, has already bowed out of title contention the ongoing FIH Junior Hockey World Cup 2021 in Bhubaneswar, following an average outing in the tournament. However, Pakistan hockey team players have been overwhelmed by the hospitality and the top-notch preparations in Odisha.

The team from the neighbourhood has expressed sheer delight at the love showered on them during their stay in Odisha and their practice sessions and matches at the Kalinga Stadium.

“Regardless of wins or losses in the tournament, the love and friendship we get in India will always be memorable for us. It’s like a second home for us,” said Pakistan skipper Rana Wahid on the sidelines of their match at the stadium.

“We loved every bit of our stay in Bhubaneswar. All of the preparations by Odisha and Hockey India have been superb. The beautiful stadium is just a perfect venue for hockey,” said Rana.

According to the team's captain, they were not able to perform in the competition as per expectation due to a lack of match practice.

“Because of Covid-19 pandemic, we didn’t have much practice. We also didn’t get much international exposure. Most of our players are experiencing these kinds of high-intensity games for the first time. But, it’s great exposure for us,” said Rana.

Pakistan, a former powerhouse in the hockey world, have lost their sheen to some extent and are struggling for a while.

“Most of the talented hockey stars in the country are reluctant to pursue hockey as a career due to lack of government support. The game is also poorly managed in Pakistan due to severe financial constraints in their board,” said a hockey analyst.