Asia Cup India’s first major hockey venture after Olympics (Lead)

May 8th, 2009 - 10:48 pm ICT by IANS  

By Anand Philar
Chennai, May 8 (IANS) India’s attempts to revive their sagging hockey fortunes, after failing to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, commence in Kuantan (Malaysia) Saturday when they take on Bangladesh in the eighth Asia Cup.

The seven-nation competition will be India’s first meaningful international outing in 14 months after the disaster at the Olympic qualifiers in Santiago, Chile.

Though India were involved in a couple of Test series and a four-nation event at home besides the annual Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament, the Asia Cup will be the first representative outing since March last year when they finished second behind Britain to miss the Olympic ticket.

As the defending champions, India would no doubt start favourites. However, in the context of developing a new-look team, it would seem that India are still to take the first step.

The Asia Cup squad includes nine players from the 2006 World Cup campaign that saw India finishing 11th among 12 teams, an equal number from the Olympic qualifying tournament side and as many as 11 from the contingent that won the Asia Cup in Chennai in 2007.

The other significant factor is the appointment of Spain’s Jose Manuel Brasa as the national coach to take over from Harendra Singh, who was put in charge following the resignation of Joaquim Carvalho in the wake of the Santiago debacle.

Brasa, whose appointment was confirmed a couple of days back, will be in attendance at the Asia Cup. He said before leaving for Kuantan that he was going there to interact with the players and that Harendra would be in charge.

The 2007 Asia Cup witnessed the Indian team, led by Prabodh Tirkey but without the present captain and drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, peaking at the right moment to defeat 2006 World Cup semi-finalists Korea 7-2 in the final.

The Indians this time, too, appear strong enough to repeat the feat, though they need to be wary of the unpredictable Korea, sixth at the Beijing Games, and the ever-dangerous Pakistan who are in the process of rebuilding the squad following their poor showing at the Olympics last year while finishing eighth.

Among the other teams, China and Malaysia look the best and on their day both can be a handful. The Chinese are also in a rebuilding mode and were quite impressive at the 2008 Olympics with their speed and fitness levels though they finished 11th.

India will have to reckon with both Pakistan and China in the preliminary league with Bangladesh being the fourth team in the pool.

Two years ago, India scraped past China 1-0 on a 46th minute Dilip Tirkey goal. China eventually finished fifth, beating Pakistan 3-2 in the play-off while Japan, Malaysia and Korea, along with India, made it to the semi-finals.

Missing from the action this year are Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong-China, who merely made up the numbers in 2007.

The pools (top two to qualify for semi-finals):

Pool A: Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Bangladesh.

Pool B: India, Pakistan, China.

India’s matches: vs Pakistan (May 10); vs China (May 12).

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