Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ireland silently confident

AFTER a spectacular 2011, Ireland’s men will hope they can continue the momentum and qualify for the Olympic Games for the first time.

The much-vaunted FIH Road to London 2012 gets underway at UCD tomorrow, with the hosts taking on Russia (2.30pm) in their opening game.
Near-full houses are expected at Belfield for one of the biggest hockey tournaments ever to take place in Ireland.
Six nations will fight it out for the sole Olympic qualification berth on offer, playing out a round-robin to determine which two sides make the winner-takes-all final on March 18.
Paul Revington’s Ireland are seeded third of the six sides, with Korea favourites followed by Malaysia.
But the ‘green machine’ have beaten both sides in recent years, and the squad’s injury worries have cleared up to allow confidence to spread.
Traditionally a side short on goals and the nous to deal with the rigours of tournament play — they’ll play six games in nine days here — Ireland have overcome both obstacles during Revington's tenure.
The collateral gain of finishing fifth in the European championships last August was a leap of two places to 16th in the world.
Eye-catching results throughout the summer, claiming the Champions Challenge II and the INSEP Five Nations – a tournament featuring world number one side Australia – heightened the mood.
Ireland hammered Russia 8-2 and 9-2 last year but midfielder John Jermyn this week warned that they, the Ukraine — who the Irish play on Sunday — and Chile are “fast improving” sides who the hosts cannot take for granted.
Six points is nonetheless the minimum requirement from those two games ahead of Tuesday night’s key showdown with world number six Korea.
Saturday: Malaysia v Chile, 12pm; Ireland v Russia, 2.30pm; Korea v Ukraine, 5pm.
Sunday: Malaysia v Russia, 12.30pm; Ireland v Ukraine, 3pm; Korea v Chile, 5.30pm. -- Ireland times.

IRELAND squad: Men (UCD, Dublin, March 10-18): David Ames (Beeston, 55 caps); Chris Cargo (Reading, 37); Peter Caruth (Annadale, 48); Timmy Cockram (Lisnagarvey, 129); Mitch Darling (SCHC, 75); David Fitzgerald (GK, Monkstown, 5); Paul Gleghorne (Instonians, 47); Ronan Gormley (Club de Campo, capt, 133); Conor Harte (SCHC, 79); David Harte (GK, SCHC, 81); John Jackson (Braxgata, 81); John Jermyn (Cork C of I, 132); Stu Loughrey (Loughborough Students, 11); Eugene Magee (Dragons, 131); Geoff McCabe (RS Tenis, 99); Andy McConnell (Hurley, 55); Ian Sloan (Cookstown, 10); Mikey Watt (RS Tenis, 91).

Electrifying Dublin Hockey Olympic Qualifier

THE VENUE: University College of Dublin hockey pitch.


One of the biggest and most important hockey tournaments ever to take place on Irish soil begins this weekend as six international men’s teams go into battle with one aim: win the competition and secure a place at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The Electric Ireland FIH Road to London event – which takes place at University College Dublin – is expected to draw near capacity crowds as Korea, Malaysia, Russia, Chile, Ukraine and host nation Ireland give it everything in a bid to reach the greatest sporting show on earth.
Two weeks ago, India became the tenth men’s team to qualify for London 2012 when they won the Hero FIH Road to London tournament in New Delhi, joining Great Britain, Pakistan, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Spain at the competition. Next Sunday, the 11th qualifying team will be known, with the one remaining Olympic berth going to the winner of the final FIH Road to London event, which takes place later this year in Kakamigahara, Japan.
Here is a closer look at all of the teams that will compete for the title in the Electric Ireland FIH Road to London in Dublin.
Korea (World Ranking: 6th) are the highest ranked men’s team yet to achieve qualification, and on their day are more than capable of beating the very best sides in the world. However, following their failure to secure Olympic qualification at the 2010 Asian Games – where Pakistan emerged triumphant – they have struggled to reach the high standards which so many expect of them. An impressive triumph ahead of Great Britain, New Zealand and Belgium in the London Cup last July suggested that the side were returning to form, but a disappointing eighth place finish at the Owen G Glenn FIH Champions Trophy at the end of 2011 was a blow to Korean confidence. Despite this, Korea rightly go into the tournament as favourites to claim the place at the London 2012 Olympics, which is hardly surprising when you consider the world class talent that the team has at its disposal. Nine of the players in the squad have over 150 caps to their name, with star striker and captain Seo Jong Ho having played 265 times for his country. If Seo is on form, Korea will take some stopping here in Dublin. To see the Korea team in full, click here.

Following their second place finish to Pakistan at the Asian Games in 2010, Malaysia (World Ranking: 13th) have a second bite at the Olympic Qualification cherry at the Dublin Road to London event. The team – captained by Mohd Madzli Ikmar Mohd Nor, a player who has made well over 300 international appearances for his country – come into this tournament determined to reach their first Olympic Games since Sydney 2000, where they finished in 11th place. Like Korea, their recent form has been mixed, a point marked by their fifth place finish at the FIH Champions Challenge 1 which took place in December in Johannesburg, South Africa. A recent 1-0 defeat against 27th ranked Wales suggests that they are still struggling for form, but this team possesses more than enough quality to mount a serious challenge for that elusive place at the London 2012 Games. One player to watch is Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin Tengku Abdul Jalil, a striker who has a habit of scoring spectacular and often crucial goals for his team. To see the Malaysia team in full, click here.

The men of Ireland (World Ranking: 16th) have made huge strides forward in recent years. South African coach Paul Revington has forged a talented group of young players into a formidable team that is both defensively strong and extremely dangerous on the attack. Revington’s charges achieved a creditable 5th place finish at last year’s EuroHockey Nations Championship, notching up an impressive 8-2 victory over fellow Olympic qualification hopefuls Russia before inflicting a 3-2 defeat on Spain, the Silver medalists at Beijing 2008. The team is captained by Ronan Gormley, an accomplished defender who plays his club hockey for Spanish giants Club de Campo of Madrid, a team that reached the final of the Euro Hockey League in 2011. Gormley is one of 12 Irish internationals playing club hockey overseas, with others including Conor and David Harte (SCHC – The Netherlands), Chris Cargo (Reading HC – England), and dangerous forward Eugene Magee, who represents Belgian champions KHC Dragons. A recent 3-0 series whitewash against Czech Republic included a dazzling 9-0 triumph, proving that the tournament hosts are in fine form coming into this event. To see the Ireland team in full, click here.

20th ranked Russia arrive in Dublin with a good blend of youth and experience. The youngest player is talented 19-year-old Semen Matkovskiy, who is almost half the age of talismanic striker and captain Aleksandr Platonov. Despite being 37, Platonov is still an incredibly powerful, dangerous forward who is capable of creating goals out of nothing. Alexander Zhirkov is Russia’s stand-out player both indoors and outdoors. His skill and creativity could be key to Russian dreams of reaching a first Olympic Games since being part of the Unified Team which took part in Barcelona 1992. To see the Russia team in full, click here.

Chile (World Ranking: 26th) may not be considered amongst the favourites taking part in the Electric Ireland FIH Champions Trophy, but they have proven over the last 12 months that they are a team that is rapidly developing. The South Americans grabbed a third place finish at the Pan American Games, cruising to victories over Barbados (9-1), Trinidad & Tobago (3-1) and Cuba (4-3) to claim their second successive bronze medal at the competition. Penalty corner expert Jan Richter netted six times during the competition, and will be a dangerous weapon for Chile here in Dublin. Another player to watch is Alexis Berczely, a skillful forward who regularly finds the back of the net for his team. To see the Chile team in full, click here.

Ukraine (World Ranking: 29th) are another fast improving team, and are certainly not attending this tournament purely to make up the numbers. They have their sights set firmly on the task of achieving Olympic Qualification, and will not be taken lightly by any of their opponents. The team is coached by Pavlo Mazur and captained by 36-year-old defender Ruslan Pashovskyy, who will be hoping to lead his national hockey team to a first ever appearance at an Olympic Games. At 40 years of age, defender Sergii Suprun is the oldest player in the competition. To see the Ukraine team in full, click here.

You can keep up to speed on all the developments from the tournament on the FIH website, which will be regularly updated with the latest news, results league tables and images. The FIH will also be posting occasional updates from the tournament to twitter via @FIH_Hockey, or by searching the hashtag #roadtolondon.

Hell bent on shedding almost-there tag

By Jugjet Singh


MALAYSIA are bent on shedding their almost-there tag in hockey, and the stakes are so high that the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHF) will be arriving in a 23-strong force in Dublin to cheer their men during the last two matches against South Korea and Ireland.
However, the first three matches against Chile, Russia and Ukraine could prove to be tougher than expected, but the hours of training and the handful of tours leading to the Qualifier should be enough to give Malaysia nine points before the crunch matches.
Never in the history of hockey has so many office bearers left the shores of Malaysia to cheer a side, be it the Sydney Olympics in 2000, or the 1998 World Cup in Utretch.
Leading the cheering squad would be Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) president Sultan Azlan Shah and MHC president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Tengku Abdullah has seen close shaves after he sat on the MHF hot-seat in 2008 as Malaysia won silver in the 2009 Invercargill World Cup Qualifier and then silver again in the 2010 Asian Games which saw them having to go through the tougher Dublin Qualifier route to reach the London Olympics.
It is now or never, and even the wily fox of Malaysian hockey Azlan Shah could be seen as feeling the jitters when the met the players at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil when the team was named.
After having a pep-talk with the players, he turned to the journalists and said: "We need all the help we can get in Dublin to cheer the team. And you journalists who are going must also be on the stands to motivate the players."
The Qualifier is being held at the University College Dublin grounds where many Malaysians are studying, so the national players can expect a big cheer from the stands, but they must not freeze in the cold and windy conditions here.
The temperature is expected to hoover around 9-12 degrees celcious during mid-day for the duration of the tournament and Malaysia play their first match at high noon against Chile.
A check with the weather forecast in Chile yielded the same results, and that means the Chileans would be more at home than Malaysia in the first crucial match which could make or break our quest.
The wind here, which comes in sudden strong gusts, could also pose a big problem for all the teams hoping to play in the Olympics. Overhead throws, which Malaysia relies upon for counter-attacks, could turn out to be more difficult to execute.
Dublin has a bleak and wintery landscape, but if Malaysia make the grade at the University College Dublin grounds, it could well turn out to be the summer which our hockey has been pinning for the last 12 years.

All set for Chile encounter

A YOUNG lad oozing with confidence, and a seasoned goalkeeper who feels at the top of the world might just be the tonic Malaysia need to squash the butterflies in their opening match against Chile in the Olympic Qualifiers in Dublin today.
Faizal Saari, 21 and with 78 caps, without blinking an eyelid said his personal target is to score two goals against Chile, who play the Argentinian sytle of robust hockey.
And S. Kumar, with a string of best-goalkeeper awards at international events, said he has never felt better leading into a tournament.
At 32 and with 177 caps, Kumar's steady hand at the back has seen Malaysia beat the best in the world, while on his off days, we have even lost to minnows.
"Normally, we arrive just before a tournament and Acclimatisation is the biggest problem but this time, we have been in the cold and damp for more than nine days, and I feel nothing is going to go wrong in the opening match," said Kumar.
As for Faizal, who scored eight goals in the 2009 Junior World Cup and has been a regular in the senior side since: "I have set personal targets against every team, and it is two goals against Chile. We have seen videos of their matches, and I believe I will be able to contribute towards a win in the opening match."
Chile, are ranked 26th in the world, while Malaysia are 13th. However, Malaysia have shown tendencies to play erratically against lower ranked teams like they did in the 4-4 draw against Italy in the 2008 Olympic Qualifiers in Kakamigahara in Japan.
That was a nightmare of a Qualifier as Malaysia started by edging Poland 2-1, then the 4-4 draw and also a 4-3 struggle against Switzerland. The national players finished third behind Japan, and Germany went on to the Olympics where they won the Beijing gold medal.
"I was named as the best goalkeeper in Kakamigahara then, but we still failed to play in the final and struggled against lower ranked teams.
"However, I believe this will not be the case in Dublin, and I aim to keep the ball out of my goalmouth so that we will have comfortable wins and not struggle," said Kumar.
The national players moment-of-truth will start today at the University College Dublin grounds, and nothing but am A is expected against Chile at the hallowed sprawling education hub in Belfield.