The 9th Asia Cup Hockey tournament starts today in Ipoh Malaysia, with the winner guaranteed a place at next year’s Hockey World Cup Finals in the Netherlands.
It promises to be an extremely interesting tournament as the two most successful teams in world hockey, India (1 World Cup and 8 Olympic Golds) and Pakistan (4 World Cups and 3 Olympic Golds) face the possibility of failing to qualify for the World Cup. Which would be a first for either country since the tournament started 42 years ago.
South Korea is the only Asian team to have qualified for the World Cup. They South Koreans qualified after Argentina won the Pan American continental championship, which meant that South Korea, among the first reserves to become the eighth team to qualify for the premier event. That will allow the South Koreans freedom to play uninhibited hockey and pose an added threat to India and Pakistan’s title hopes.
Malaysia finished runners-up in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year, where they lost to Australia in the final, but were disappointing in the World League semi-finals. The Malaysians always pick their game up with good support coming from the fans in Ipoh, and it will be no different this time, which could again spell danger for India and Pakistan.
Malaysia will have had one eye on the Euro Hockey Championships as Germany, Belgium, England and the Netherlands, all of these made the semi finals which means Spain will qualify for the world cup after coming fifth in the World Hockey League and being ranked above Malaysia in the world rankings. With Australia or New Zealand favoured to win the Oceania Group, and both teams having qualified already that means Malaysia gain a World cup spot, but they are keen to win the Asia Cup for the first time, especially in front of their home fans. The added incentive is to win it for Chua Boon Huat, their team mate who tragically lost his life in a car crash at the start of the month.
India must make the semi finals they have a god chance of making the World Cup, but if Pakistan win the Asia Cup then India will not. If Malaysia or South Korea win India will head to the Hague thanks to their finish at the World Hockey League.
Confusing stuff, but simply put Pakistan must win and India would be wise to do the same. It seems incredible that these two great hockey nations find themselves in such a position, and it will be very sad to think one of them will not be competing at the World Cup.
Be sure to watch the action unfold over the next nine days. One team that could put a spanner in the works is the much improved Bangladesh