Monday, March 26, 2012

Junior Asia Cup: India have Pakistan for company

PIC: K. Dharmaraj

MALAYSIA should cruise into the semi-finals of the Junior Asia Cup in Malacca on May 3-13, judging from the groupings released by the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF).

The hosts are in Group A with South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and Iran while in Group B are India, Pakistan, China and Bangladesh.
And Project 2013 coach K. Dharmaraj said his charges should have no problem playing in the semi-finals.
“We only have to beat Japan, Sri Lanka and Iran and should be in the semi-finals with a match to spare against South Korea,” said Dharmaraj who has set his mind on winning the gold medal in Malacca.
Defending champions India have qualified as hosts of the Junior World Cup next year, and they have traditional rivals Pakistan for company.
The AHF have yet to get the green light from the In ternational Hockey Federation (FIH) on how many teams from the Junior Asia Cup will be given berths in the World Cup.
“I will be in Barcelona this weekend to attend an FIH meeting and should get a confirmation from the parent body on how many teams from the Asia Cup will make a direct entry into the World Cup.
“And because India are automatic qualifiers, AHF will propose to the FIH to give our tournament three tickets to the World Cup,” said AHF secretary general Tan Sri P. Ala gendra.
Dharmaraj’s boys will play a series of matches against Pakistan and South Korea starting from April 5, and their last tune-up will be against an Australian club side.
“There is no use in targeting anything lower than the gold medal as we must make the World Cup at all cost. The Korean and Pakistan teams will be down for friendlies and I will use all 35 players I have with me in training to give every player a chance to prove himself before naming the final squad,” said Dharmaraj.
The Junior Asia Cup was supposed to be a 10-team tournament but Thailand withdrew due to domestic rea sons.
For the record, Malaysia have never won the Junior Asia Cup since its inception in Karachi in 1987, with their best being runner in 1992 in Ipoh.
The opening ceremony will be a spectacle to watch on May 2, as plans are afoot for the teams to sail along the Malacca River, past the VIP stands.

Dharmaraj has eyes fixed on gold

PROJECT 2013 won a refreshing gold in the Sultan of Johor Cup but their true test will come in the Junior Asia Cup in Malacca on May 3-13.
Coach K. Dharmaraj's charges finally landed the elusive international gold medal, immaterial whether at senior or junior level, when they beat Australia 3-2 in extra-time in the inaugural Sultan of Johor Cup.
For the record, Malaysia's other hockey gold medals were all won at the Sea Games.
And for the Junior Asia Cup, which also doubles up as a Junior World Cup Qualifier, the target is to finish in the top two and make the grade.
Defending champions India, as hosts of the Junior World Cup, snatched a spot while nine other teams -- Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iran, Thailand and Malaysia -- will make up the rest.
The top three finishers in Malacca qualify for the World Cup, but Dharmaraj wants the gold medal. "We must not only play in the final in Malacca but also win the gold medal because it is becoming increasingly difficult to play in the World Cup and Olympics as the standard among teams around the world is fast improving," he said.
His confidence stems from the fact that his players made short work out of Australia, South Korea, India, Pakistan and New Zealand to lay their hands on the Sultan of Johor Cup.
"I was fortunate to see for myself lower ranked teams like Ukraine, Chile and Russia play in the Dublin Olympic Qualifier and was shocked at how much they have improved," said Dharmaraj.
"They have strong basics and good dribbling skills, The only area they are lacking is penalty corner executions and also PC defence.
"They lost out in that two areas, but I believe in a few years it will be difficult to make the World Cup and Olympic grades if our juniors do not start having the winning attitude in them."
And that is why even if his charges need only to finish among the top three in Malacca, Dharmaraj wants the gold medal badly.
With the inclusion of brothers Faizal and Fitri Saari into the Project squad, the coach's target is not far fetched.
"Both will be of great help as they showed maturity in their touches in Dublin," said Dharmaraj.