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Photo Credits: SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a warm, winter day in 2004. Close to 50,000 people had gathered at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore as Pakistan and India lined up for the third-place playoff match in the Champions Trophy men’s hockey tournament.

The passionate crowd celebrated loudly as Pakistan edged India 3-2 in an engaging battle and went on to clinch the bronze, while India’s efforts too were appreciated by the fans who understood the beauty of the game.

It was free-flowing hockey at its best, with players laden with silken skills and on display was a classic India-Pakistan encounter — the ones that are famous in the history of the game.

It is those exhilarating moments combined with top-notch hockey that the Pakistan fans will be hoping to witness as a star-studded World XI team will take on a Pakistan XI in the two-match series that will be held in Karachi and Lahore from January 18 to 21.

Yes, hockey is back in Pakistan, a moment many of this generation have awaited with bated breath!

They have heard of the artistry that Shahbaz Ahmed Senior portrayed with his magical skills; they have thrived on the memories that the likes of Hassan Sardar and Shahid Ali Khan brought along, and the electric moves that came off ‘the flying horse’ Sameeullah’s stick.

The legacy was carried on by the crafty and extremely talented midfielder Waseem Ahmed and the legendary drag-flicker Sohail Abbas, but then the present lot of fans were left unsatiated, having never seen them in flesh.

It is less than 24 hours that the stadiums will fill up again and with it, bring along a hope of a better tomorrow. The Pakistan Hockey Federation aspires that the two-match series — which will be an amalgamation of hockey and cultural exchange — will showcase to the world that it is a “peace-loving country”.

Says the Netherlands’ Rob Recker, who is a part of the World XI and also featured in the 2004 Champions Trophy in Lahore,

“I had no hesitations at all (to travel to Pakistan). I believe in the good and happy people that I have always seen in Pakistan. I am confident that security will be well taken care of and that the people will welcome us with great friendship.”

And there this is Schubert, Australia’s gold medal winning member at the 2004 Olympic Games, who is yet to play on the Pakistan soil despite a career spanning over a decade.

Says Schubert, “This will be my first time in Pakistan. I remembered the first time I played in India and how much the Indian public get behind their team. I’m expecting the same will happen in Karachi and Lahore from the Pakistan public.”

Says Shahbaz Ahmed Senior, Pakistan Hockey Federation secretary,

“These have been busy days for us. A lot of preparations are being done to organize this event and it is very close to our heart. Pakistan hockey has suffered in the last one decade and our players are missing out on important tournaments because of less exposure. We want to send across a message that we are a peace-loving country and want international hockey to return to Pakistan.”

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