Incheon: Muhammad Imran doesn't consider a lack of international competition recently to be any barrier to his Pakistan field hockey team's Asian Games title defense.
"We've trained with the aim of winning the gold medal again," the 34-year-old Pakistan captain told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "We may not have played enough against other teams this year, but we've made up by playing a lot of practice matches." (ICC World Cup arrives in Pakistan)
Pakistan failed to qualify for this year's World Cup in the Netherlands, and did not field a team at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow due to a split in its national Olympic association.
Imran said it was difficult to gauge the disadvantage of not playing in those tournaments, but think that being the unknown commodity might just help in Incheon.
"Each team knows the pattern of other teams and the way they attack or defend. But we might just have an advantage over others because they may not have seen us enough," he said. "On the other hand, we've studied South Korea and India's matches at the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games."
India defeated South Korea 3-0 in the playoff for ninth place in the World Cup in the Netherlands, and was the best-placed Asian team. At the Commonwealth Games, India lost 4-0 to world champion Australia in the final.
Imran, one of 10 players here from the squad which won at Guangzhou four years ago, said it was important for his team to adjust to the new game format in which four 15-minute quarters replaces the previous format of two 35-minute halves.
"The game is becoming faster and coaches have to change their plans every 15 minutes. India might have a slight advantage over us in this regard as they've played in the format in their (Hockey India) league," he said. "But at the same time, our training has centered around this aspect too."
A faster game, he said, also meant a more even competition.
"I feel many teams have a chance of winning the gold. It's not just India, Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia," Imran said. "Even China and Japan have good teams and are capable of surprising everyone."
Pakistan has been grouped with India, China, Oman and Sri Lanka in pool B at Incheon, with South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Bangladesh in pool A.
Though Imran wants to treat the crucial group match against India on Sept. 25 as just another match, he understands there will be added pressure against its arch rival.
"An India-Pakistan match is always special not only because people back home are looking forward to it but also because people around the world are following it," he said.
Pakistan has won eight gold medals, two silver and three bronze in 16 editions of the Asian Games, finishing outside the medals bracket only at the Busan Asian Games in 2002.