The stage is set for the 18th Asian Games Jakarta Palembang 2018 and what a spectacle this multi-sport competition promises to be. Hockey at the Asian Games is always a highlight and this year sees one of the biggest fields of competitors with 12 men's teams and 10 women's teams all searching for that most sought after of prizes – to be the first nation to qualify for a place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Elisabeth Fuerst, Event Director for both the men's and women's competitions said “This is the most important Asian hockey event in the four-year cycle. Not only does it happen once every four years, it is also the Olympic Qualifier; The winners of both the men and women events qualify directly for Tokyo 2020.
"I am also very excited about the growing hockey family within Asia with this year’s Asian Games featuring 12 men and 10 women teams, the most teams in all Asian Games. This shows the growing popularity of the sport of hockey within Asia.”
The men's competition sees some of the biggest nations in hockey taking on each other in a battle for continental supremacy. The reigning champions of Asia and fifth highest ranked team in the world, India, will be lining up in Pool A alongside Hong Kong China (WR:45), Japan (WR:16), Korea (WR:14), Sri Lanka (WR:38) and the unranked Indonesia.
It is a pool that, on paper, India should win easily, particularly with the experience of Sardar Singh (307 caps) and captain PR Sreejesh (191 caps) in their ranks. But, at a major event such as the Asian Games, the lower ranked teams will view each match as a final in its own right and in those circumstances anything can happen.
In Pool B, things look a little tighter. Malaysia are the highest ranked team at 12, but Pakistan are ranked only one place lower in 13th position. Under the guidance of Head Coach Roelant Oltmans, the Green Shirts have been working hard on their fitness and gearing up to take their place in next year's Hockey Pro League and will be looking to re-establish themselves at the top table of international hockey.
Bangladesh, Oman and Thailand, ranked 31, 33 and 47 respectively are all teams who will be looking to gain wins over their higher ranked rivals. Kazakhstan are also a nation that has been putting a lot of time and investment into developing hockey at all levels.
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 both spring a surprise.”
While India, under the watchful eye of Harendra Singh, will be favourites for the title, this is far from being a one-horse race. The men's competition starts with an intriguing meeting between Korea and Hong Kong China, with the match between close rivals Bangladesh and Oman probably being the pick of the action from Day One.
The women's competition is wide open with a number of teams capable of lifting the trophy. At the recent Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, India (WR:9) and Japan (WR:14) both showed they have plenty of ability and a growing self-confidence, while Korea (WR:10) and China (WR:11) had already taken the strategic steps of prioritising the Asian Games over the World Cup.
Throw into that mix the steadily improving Malaysia (WR:22) and you have at least five teams with genuine opportunities to win the title and become the first team to secure qualification for Tokyo 2020.
In Pool A, China are the team to beat. With Head Coach Jamilon Mülders now adding his trademark mix of player responsibility and creativity to the renowned defensive discipline of the China team, then the team ranked 11th in the world will be tough to beat.
Malaysia will also be a challenging team. Under Head Coach Dhaarma Raj, the Malaysian team has experienced top level action at the Hockey World League Semi-Final and Commonwealth Games, and will be bringing that experience with them to the competition.
Japan automatically qualify for their own Olympic Games but they are also a team that has huge ambitions to move up the rankings. The Cherry Blossoms won hearts and minds at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup with their free-flowing style of play and Head Coach Anthony Farry will want to build on the momentum gathered in London.
Also in Pool A, Hong Kong China (WR:44) and Chinese Taipei (WR:53) will be looking to gain international experience and, whenever an opportunity arises, will seek to cause an upset against higher-ranked rivals.
Pool B sees an intriguing contest between India and Korea – ranked 9th and 11th respectively – with the two teams playing very different but equally effective styles of hockey. India relies on speed, flair and hard work to break down the opposition, running relentlessly at an opposition until they find gaps in the defence. Korea is a team that defends deep and then hits opponents on the break.
Thailand (WR:28) and Kazakhstan (WR:34) will be two evenly matched teams, who will be pushing for a good finishing place in the pools, to give them a shot at a place in the placement stages of the competition.
At 64th in the world, Indonesia are the lowest ranked team in the competition, but as recent international events have proven, teams who are lower ranked can often find a way to upset their higher-ranked opponents.
Both competitions start on Sunday 19 August, with the finals of the women's event taking place on 31 August and the men's final taking place on 1 September.
Follow all the action via www.asiahockey.org
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There will also be a pool round-up and competition review on the FIH website.Back