Men Preview – Asian Games

The elite men’s hockey teams of Asia go into battle for an Asian Games podium finish, but their eyes will be on only the gold color as they seek to cement their berth to the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.

The action is expected to be fiery as at least five teams will be in contention for the top prize at the Gelora Bung Karno hockey stadium.  The teams are India, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea

Defending champions India, ranked fifth in the world, will be the favorites to clinch the gold medal. They are probably the most well-prepared team here in Jakarta. Their runners-up finish to Australia in the Champions Trophy in July was a testament of their growing prowess.

Head coach Harendra Singh said that they have only one objective here in Jakarta.

“That is to play in the final game and to win it. Nothing else matters.”

The Indian coach said they have a more experienced team for the Asian Games compared to the Champions trophy.

“The core players are there and there are two changes. We have brought back Akashdeep Singh and Rupinder Singh into the team. They have the experience and will be an asset. I see this team as a much stronger one,” he added.

The Indians will not have a problem making the semis from Group A where they have South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and host Indonesia.

Malaysia ranked 12th in the world is considered the second seed but that could be an illusion.

The Malaysians have a consistency problem and need to keep up a winning mentality to get into the final.

They face Kazakhstan in the opening match of Group B and will have the like of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Oman, and Thailand for company. Kazakhstan is a late replacement for China.

Malaysian coach Stephen van Huizen said that the tournament will be unpredictable as all the teams are bent on doing well.

“We just have to take one game at a time. It will not be easy at all. On paper, we are a potential semi-finalist with Pakistan. But Bangladesh and Oman can spring a surprise. They have both have foreign coaches managing their team.

Bangladesh has Malaysian K. Gobinathan as their coach while Pakistani Tahir Zaman, a former prolific goal scorer, is heading Oman.

Tahir, however, discounted his team’s challenge for honors.

“For me the performance of the team matter more than aiming for a medal. The team is still behind the top teams and will take some time to get to their level. I want to play to their structure in place and make as fewer mistakes as possible.“We will take whatever results that come our way,” he added.

Overall India and South Korea should make the cut in Group A with Japan as the outsider. Group B if goes to form should see Malaysian and Pakistan booking their last four places.

As the teams line up for their matches on Monday, the Olympic rings will feature heavily on their minds.