MUSCAT, FEB 13 – Hosts Oman will hope to make most out of it as they take on hockey giants Pakistan in the tri-nation opener in Muscat on Wednesday. Japan is the third team in the tournament, which will be a preparatory event for the 12-nation Asian Games Jakarta 2018 qualifiers scheduled to be held in Muscat from March 2-10. “This tournament will begin the great year for hockey in the Sultanate. It will be a dress rehearsal for the Asian Games qualifiers,” Oman Hockey Association (OHA) Chairman Talib al Wahaibi told Oman Daily Observer.
“All the three participating teams are ready for the tournament.” “Hopefully Oman national team will utilise the event to the maximum ahead of the Asian Games qualifiers,” Al Wahaibi said. The OHA chief expects good turnout at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex hockey ground for the tri-nation tournament. “We expect to see hockey enthusiasts in large numbers for the matches. This will mark a new beginning for Oman hockey also, Talib added.
TEAM ALL SET
Oman national hockey coach Tahir Zaman is confident that Omani players will utilise the event as a chance to brush up their hockey skills against the higher-ranked opponents. “Pakistan is coming with their top players and are preparing for World Cup and Asian Games. Japan also arrived with their best players ahead of the Asian Games qualifiers. So, it will be a big occasion for Oman,” former Pakistan stalwart Zaman said.
Zaman expects the tournament will serve to help Oman deal with the big-match temperament.
“Earlier, whenever Oman play some big teams, the players used to falter unable to stand the big-match pressure. Now, though things have changed to some extent, Oman still need to allay the fear of top teams and focus on their strengths,” the Oman coach said.
The key will be to go fearless and bring out the best hockey while challenging the stronger opponents, he said.
“I have told the players to produce their best and not worry about results. This is a great opportunity for us ahead of the Asian Games qualifiers,” Zaman said.
Oman have just returned after competing in an international tournament in Hong Kong (February 8-10), where they finished second behind champions Chinese team which competed under a provincial name.
“The Chinese team consisted of many national players and we could beat them 2-1 in the last match. They had earlier thrashed Hong Kong 10-1 and Chinese Taipei 6-2. We were level on points with the Chinese team, but lost the top spot on goal average,” Zaman said. Oman had a last-minute defeat against Chinese Taipei to blame for the outcome.
“We were ahead in the match for most part of the time but last minute blunders cost us the match against Chinese Taipei.”
However, it will be a different story when Oman face World No 13 Pakistan and World No 16 Japan.
Oman, ranked 32 in world, will have to punch above their weight in tackling the challenge of these teams.
“We will both focus on attack as well as defence against these teams. This will be a real hard test for the local players,” Zaman added.
The fitness level of the team is up to the mark as visible from the Hong Kong tournament when Oman played back to back matches on February 8, 9 and 10, according to the coach.
Series 2018 Schedule
All matches start at 6 pm at Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex
Oman v Pakistan (February 14)
Japan v Pakistan (February 15)
Oman v Japan (February 16)
Oman v Pakistan (February 17)
Japan v Pakistan (February 18)
Oman v Japan (February 19)
Final: 1st in Pool v 2nd in Pool (February 20)