MUSCAT, OCT 24 – Oman national hockey team has returned after an impressive performance at the Asian Cup 2017 in Bangladesh capital of Dhaka.
The Oman side failed to register any win in the eight-nation tournament, which was won by India beating Malaysia 2-1 in the final.
Still, the young Sultanate team made some valiant efforts to improve their standard during the top Asian tournament. Against China, during the first match Oman came close by losing 2-1 and then in the classification game lost 3-2.
“We were really close against China to post either a draw or a win. Boys really fought hard in both the matches,” Oman’s chief coach KK Ponnacha told Observer.
Oman captain Hashim al Shatri had rued some easy chances against China mentioning some decent saves from goalkeeper Fahad al Noufali.
“Realistically judging our overall performance in the tournament, we lacked the fitness to stay competitive in the last two quarters of the matches. Most of our goals came in the first two quarters and the rival teams made inroads into our defence in the last two quarters.”
As far as international exposure is concerned Oman were able to play some tactical games against some of the top teams in the world hockey.
Barring the final results, most of the matches earned appreciation for Oman for their valiant display.
The Oman coach picked the classification match against Japan as Oman’s best performance.
Though Japan beat a spirited Oman team 5-3 win, Ponnacha said Oman played well against the superior opponents.
“We matched Japan in the first two quarters but missed out on third quarter which was fully utilised by Japan to take commanding lead.”
Salah al Saadi notched up a 1-0 lead for Oman in the second minute of the match when he scored sensational field goal to put pressure on Japanese defence right at the start. But the lead lasted only seven minutes as Shota Yamada pumped a well-struck PC to equalise in the 9th minute.
“Our counter-attacks were mostly threatening for the teams and we have a further develop on this aspect apart from rectifying the defensive lapses.”
“Oman were the bottom-ranked team in the championship but have scored against every single team. This is a major positive we take back from the tournament. We have learnt a lot of good lessons in this tournament and will work on our game further,” the Indian national added.
The coach had a special praise for the junior players.
“Some of the junior players were outstanding in the tournament. They can go on to become real heroes for the country.”
One of the junior player in the side Rashed al Fazari won the award for the best goal of the match against Japan.
On his view on the tournament as general, the former Indian Olympian said India were outstanding to win the title. “India played outstanding game to win the title. The good wins against Pakistan and Malaysia in Super 4s gave real confidence for India.”
“Pakistan later found the form and finished strong on third behind runners-up Malaysia, who were impressive throughout the tournament.”
“Overall, the tournament showcased the rising standard of Asian hockey,” Ponnacha opined.
FOCUS ON FTINESS
Talib al Wahaibi, Chairman of Oman Hockey Association, echoed in the opinions of the national coach.
“We had seven new players in the side and four of them were playing for the first time for Oman,” the OHA chief said.
“Though Oman did not achieve their target considering the results of the tournament, it was a well-contested championship by the boys. The team’s performance against the top-ranked Asian sides shows considerable improvement from our recent standards,” Al Wahaibi said.
Oman eyed a sixth-place finish ahead of China in the Asian Cup but remain on eighth rank after the competition. In their previous Asian Cup appearance in 2013, Oman had finished sixth. According to the OHA chief, it was lack of competitive fitness that cost Oman many matches.
“We couldn’t stay competitive throughout the matches. The players were tired after putting in their full efforts in the first two quarters. By the third and fourth quarters we were unable to prevent the onslaught from the top professional sides,” Al Wahaibi closely reviewed the performance of the national team.
However, the OHA will soon appoint a professional fitness coach to rectify the issue.
“We need a fitness expert for the team as we are competing in the highly-competitive modern hockey,” he said adding that the national teams’ committee will meet on October 26 to decide on this and other matters concerning the national side.
Another top agenda will be the Asian Games 2018 Jakarta Qualifying Championship to be hosted by the Sultanate in March 2018.
“The Asian Games Qualifiers are the next big thing for Oman hockey and the committee will discuss all the aspects regarding this during the meeting,” he concluded.