The victorious Pakistan hockey team that won the gold medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou was given a rapturous welcome on its return on Saturday night.
The players were welcomed at the Allama Iqbal airport in Lahore by the president and secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation besides some government officials and hundreds of joyous people who appeared thrilled to greet their heroes.
In a euphoric atmosphere at the airport people lifted the players on their shoulders and showered them with rose petals as others danced to drum beats to celebrate Pakistan's first Asian Games hockey gold medal since 1990.
Pakistan beat Malaysia in the final after shooting out South Korea on penalty strokes in the semi-final their only defeat came against arch-rivals India.
Pakistan's ace penalty corner specialist and goal scorer in the final, Sohail Abbas said that the tough match against India had put the players in the right frame of mind for the knockout games.
"The matches against India and Korea were really hard and when we went into the final we were confident we could beat Malaysia," Abbas said.
The senior player said he was ready to play for the national team as long as the country needed him maybe even up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Pakistan captain, Zeeshan Ashraf said he was overwhelmed by the celebrations and joy the Asian games victory had brought to the Pakistani people.
"Winning the gold medal was a big high but this is much bigger the welcome we have got today is amazing. I'm thankful to God that he gave me the honour of leading the team to the victory stand," he said.
President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gillani have already announced cash prizes ranging up to five million rupees each for the players who will also be feted at official receptions.
Pakistan manager, Khawaja Junaid said the joyous welcome given to the team proved that the sport was still very much alive in the country and the Pakistani people had not forgotten hockey despite disappointments in recent times.
Goalkeeper, Salman Akbar who saved crucial penalty strokes in the semi-final against Korea said when he defended the final stroke he recited the Kalma (prayer) and kept his nerves.
"I think now is the time for big organizations to come forward and support hockey, we need to find more talent and offer more incentives to players to take up hockey as a profession," Akbar said.
The Asian Games title was Pakistan's first major title win in any tournament since 1994.