Thursday, May 15, 2014

Daunting task for Malaysian men..


Our attention turns to Asia, and the impact countries such as India, Malaysia, Korea, China and Japan may have upon the World Cup. Some of these countries have a long history of involvement in major tournaments, for others it is new territory. One team that has long been associated with success on hockey's world stage is India. The men's team has dominated global hockey in the past although, at the moment, that proud hockey nation is working hard to restore its national team to former glories. The team that holds the most Olympic hockey medals – eight gold, one silver and two bronze – is currently ranked eighth in the world and is going through a re-building process. Leading from the bench will be head coach Terry Walsh and head of high performance Roel Oltmann, who are both working hard to add structure and physicality to their highly-skilled team. Setting the example from the pitch will be the creative midfielder and captain Sardar Singh and the specialist drag flicker and defensive rock Rupinder Pal Singh.
Korea enter the Rabobank World Cup on the back of a triumphant return to Champions Trophy hockey via their victory at the Champions Challenge 1. The team are also the continental champions of Asia, a title that they claimed on Malaysian soil last year thanks to victory over India in the final of the Asia Cup in Ipoh. The side, coached by Shin Seok Kyo, were also in good form at the recent Sultan Azlan Shah tournament, claiming three wins, one draw and one defeat. The Korean squad is a very experienced one: only five players who played in Champions Challenge 1 had played less than 100 games for their country. In The Hague, one player to watch is 30-year-old defender Jang Jong Hyun, a veteran of three Olympic Games (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012) and a fearsome penalty corner drag flicker.

The third men's team representing the East is Malaysia, currently ranked 13th in the world and facing the daunting challenge of playing the opening match of the World Cup against the current world champions, Australia. However, Malaysia have enjoyed a successful past few weeks, beating fellow world cup competitors New Zealand at the Champions Challenge, and picking up a bronze medal in that event.
The team is coached by former Malaysian international Muhammad Dhaarma Raj, who stepped up from coaching the men’s U-21 team. The new coach has made a successful start to his reign, guiding the team to a second place finish behind Australia in the Sultan Azlan Cup. Among the skilful players emerging from the passionate hockey nation are Firhan Ashari, Malaysia’s youngest player, and Faizal Saari, a skilful attacker who regularly gets his name on the score-sheet. 

Asia is well represented on the women's side. China, Korea and Japan will all be competing in The Hague, and are ranked 7th, 8th and 9th respectively. Of the three teams, China are probably most likely to be challenging for medals, although the firepower of Park Mi Hyun could well be a decisive factor in Korea's favour.
China won a silver medal in Beijing, but results before and after that competition have been more middle of the road. In the Champions Trophy the team has finished seventh and eighth on the past two occasions, and this will be China's first appearance at the World Cup. The team's opening match is against Germany, who are ranked one place ahead of them, and a good start could see China fulfilling their huge potential and bringing home a medal.
Ranked one place below China is the Korea team. Their recent performance at the Champions Challenge in Glasgow was well below par. They entered the tournament as favourites but finished in fifth place. The side also missed out on winning the Asia Cup when they were beaten in the tournament final by lower ranked Japan last September, while an eighth place finish at the Argentina Hockey World League Final at the end of the year was certainly below expectations. All of this prompted captain Kim Jong Eun to say that following a few days rest, the squad "would be fit and raring to go at the World Cup", and they "expected to return with a medal."
The Cherry Blossoms of Japan are the lowest ranked of the women's teams from Asia, but they can never be written off as China and South Africa learnt to their cost at the 2012 Olympics. Japan open their World Cup campaign with the unenviable task of facing the home side, The Netherlands, but with influential players Miyuki Nakagawa, Keiko Manabe and Shiho Otsuka on the pitch, they will not be a side to be taken lightly. The best position achieved by Japan in previous World Cups was fifth in 2006 (Madrid), and they will be hoping to better the 11th place they achieved in 2011.