Never before has the Asia Cup assumed the significance and suspense as this chapter nine set to roll in to hockey history here on Saturday.
Labelled as the event to identify the continental contestant for the summit at The Hague next year, the unfolding drama this week may throw up chances for more than one qualifier from the continent for the World Cup.
Korea, the defending champion, tumbled into the World Cup cluster thanks to Argentina snuffing out the challenge from Canada in the Pan American Cup. Korea was the first reserve to get on to the bandwagon.
The possibility of Spain, the second reserve, coming into the World Cup may be determined this week-end at the European Cup.
Three Asian outfits — Malaysia, India and Pakistan — are in line in that order; each with a distinct possibility of ensuring a passage to The Hague.
Exciting as the permutations and combinations are, the focus is bound on the team that eventually climbs to the top of the podium for cornering the automatic qualifier berth from Asia.
Korea won the Asian Championships Cup last at Kuantan (Malaysia) in 2009.
It will try its level best to retain the trophy. A reverse may shatter the Koreans’ morale.
Malaysia, India and Pakistan will aim to take the top spot. At least, for Malaysia and India there is a glimmer of hope linked to the outcome of the Oceania championship. Australia and New Zealand have already qualified from HWL.
Pakistan is left with no option but to win here to escape the humiliation of missing the prestigious event for the first time since its inception in 1971.
A desperate administration after the team’s poor show in the HWL semifinals — it finished seventh at Johor — has roped in all the senior players, including the retired goal-keeper Salman Akbar, to regain the title and put to rest all criticism back home.
There is no need to exaggerate the importance of this event for India.
Fear of failing
The fear of failing to make it to the World Cup is genuine. Compelled by circumstances for fielding a new-look squad, a filament of unpredictability is inevitable.
The untested frontline is a huge gamble. The mid-field, manned by the indefatigable Sardara Singh, is capable of handling constant pressure. The squad relies on the conversion of penalty corners by Raghunath and Ravinderpal Singh.
Devastated by the death of the seasoned Chua Boon in a tragic auto accident recently, Malaysia is making a strong bid to enter the World Cup scene after 2002.
The top of the podium finish is the goal for the host team under the guidance of South African coach, Paul Revington. There is also a hint of complacency arising out of the expected results in the European and Oceania continental championships. As the third reserve along with Spain, the home team is looking forward to clinch a berth. Malaysia participated in the WC as host in 2002.
India engages Oman in its opening match in pool ‘B’ on Saturday. The final will be on September 1.
The Pools: ‘A’: Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan and Chinese Taipei; ‘B’: Korea, India, Bangladesh and Oman.
Saturday’s matches: India vs Oman (1.35 p.m. IST); Pakistan vs Japan (3.35 p.m.); Malaysia vs Chinese Taipei (5.35 p.m.).