It was a hugely successful four days of hockey for Uzbekistan men’s hockey team as they stormed to an unbeaten first place at the Haier Hockey Series Open in Lahore, Pakistan.
The event, the last of eight men’s events in the inaugural FIH Hockey Series Open competition, saw four teams battling for a place at the Hockey Series Finals that take place in the first half of 2019. The Hockey Series Finals are the next step along the path to Olympic qualification, with the top two teams at each of the Hockey Series Finals qualifying to take part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifiers next October.
Uzbekistan, who were the highest ranked team at the competition at 55 in the FIH Hero World rankings, got off to the best of starts with an 11-0 win over unranked Afghanistan. There were two hat trick heroes as captain Golib Kalandarov and Karimov Ruslan both found the goal three times apiece.
Kazakhstan were always going to be Uzbekistan’s closest rivals, and so it proved as they tore to a 6-0 win over Nepal. Four goals were scored by Yermek Tashkeyev, including a penalty stroke that he slotted coolly past Kishor Ojha in the Nepalese goal.
The winning ways continued for Kazakhstan as they put a further eight goals past Afghanistan, with Aman Yelubayev hitting three – all impressively taken goals scored from open play.
While both Nepal and Afghanistan have limited international experience, it was Nepal who adapted better to the pressure. They scored against Uzbekistan, although they lost the match 6-1 and then they bounced back to defeat Afghanistan 4-0.
The crunch game was the final game of the competition. Uzbekistan and Afghanistan both went into the match with unbeaten records and, while the higher-ranked team had the better goal difference, a win for Kazakhstan would have been enough to send them through to the next round.
It was actually Kazakhstan who took the lead, with Nurbol Kozhym scoring in the 18th minute. This lead was wiped out just seconds after the restart when Khakimby Khakimov struck home from a penalty corner. The two sides battled it out for the remainder of the half, but a goal three minutes from the half-time whistle from Ruslan settled Uzbekistan nerves a little.
The Uzbekistan lead was extended to 4-1 through Ruslan and Gaybullo Khaytboev. Although Kazakhstan pulled one back through Tilek Uzbek, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Kazakhstan to get back on terms. Two goals from Oybek Nazarov sealed the win and Uzbekistan’s progress to the next round was confirmed.
Top scorer in Lahore was Karimov Ruslan of Uzbekistan with seven goals, with Kazakhstan’s Yermek Tashkeyev in second place with five.
For details of the Hockey Series Open and the qualification process for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, click .