Between Saturday 28 and Sunday 5 November, eight of the best women’s international teams in Asia will be playing for the title of winners of the Women’s Asia Cup. The event is taking place in in Kakamigahara City, Gifu, Japan and the additional prize for the winner, besides the honour of being crowned champions of Asia, is qualification for the Women’s Hockey World Cup London 2018.
Host nation Japan, will be joined by teams from China, India, Kazakstan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Three of these teams have already booked their places in next year’s blue riband event. China and Korea finished second and fourth respectively at the Hockey World League Semi Finals in Brussels, while Japan’s sixth-place finish in the Hockey World League Semi Final in Johannesburg was enough to see them qualify for the London spectacle. If any of the other five teams lift the trophy on 5 November, they will join the 13 teams who have already qualified.
The competition format is two pools leading to cross-over classification matches. In Pool A, China (World ranking: 8), India (WR 12:), Malaysia (WR: 22) and Singapore (WR: 40) will be battling it out, while Pool B will comprise Japan (WR:11), Kazakhstan (WR: 34), Korea (WR:9) and Thailand (WR: 31).
For India, after the magnificent achievement of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, the 2017 Hockey World League Semi-Final was a bit of a disappointment after they finished eighth. The Eves will be desperate to put that right and qualify for next year’s World Cup.
It will also be a first international event under the guidance of new head coach Harendra Singh, who took over the reins after previous head coach Sjoerd Marijne moved across to take over as men’s head coach. Speaking to The Hindu Times, Singh said he is looking for a strong performance in Japan with qualification for next year’s Hockey women’s World Cup London 2018 being his top priority.
“We have a very good blend of youth and experience within our team which will help us in negating the tasks ahead of us at the women’s Asia Cup. The team has played against higher ranked teams in the build-up to the tournament which has helped us in improving our game."
A familiar are on the team sheet is the Eve’s star striker Rani. She too is confident that the team can perform up to its potential at the women’s Asia Cup. “We have made improvements in our game wherever it was necessary. I feel the team is playing well as a unit and there is a good sense of cohesion in our squad. We are looking forward to performing well in Japan so that we can qualify for the World Cup,” she said.
Another coach looking to make a mark with a new team is former German head coach Jamilon Mülders. The Asia Cup begins just weeks after Mülders takes up position as head coach of China and both coach and players will be on a sharp learning curve.
China’s goalkeeper Li Dongxiao is looking forward to working alongside the charismatic German, although she knows it will be a challenging first few weeks. “We haven’t really had enough time to do adequate preparation. Thus this time, our main target will be team building and learning.
“Temporarily, we have formed our unique style. We only had a short term training this time, and Jami needs some time to get familiar with us. But, with the guidance of Jami, I am quite sure that we will form our tactical style by training and playing.”
Korea has the best record of the participating teams in the event. They have won the Hockey Asia Cup three times, been runners-up once and taken bronze on three occasions. At the previous edition, Korea took silver after they lost to Japan 2-1 in the final. While, they have World Cup qualification secured, Huh Sang Young will be looking for his team to perform well at these games as it is a rare opportunity for his team to play top international teams.
Korea’s captain, Kim Jong Eun, agrees with this point. “For Korea, geographically, we are at a disadvantage, which restricts us when it comes to travelling to play against other teams from other parts of the world.”
Home advantage and the prospect of putting on a show for fans will be an immense driver for Japan. With the Olympics taking place in Tokyo in just over two years time, the Cherry Blossoms would dearly love to put on a great performance on home soil to whet the public’s appetite for hockey. In terms of performance, coach Antony Farry has named a very young and inexperienced team, with a view to building for 2020. Six players are making their debut, while a further 10 players have less than 20 caps.
Malaysia is the fifth highest ranked team in the tournament and a second place finish at the Hockey World League Round Two event in Kuala Lumpur saw them defeat higher ranked Italy in the semi-finals before losing out to a strong Ireland in the final. The team then underwent a huge learning curve at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Brussels, where they finished in 10th position. Despite losing all their games, the scoreline indicate a team that is prepared to defend hard. 1-0 losses to New Zealand and Scotland and a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Spain suggest that Malaysia just need more top class international competition.
Both Thailand and Kazakhstan will need to be at the top of their games if they are to challenge for the podium in this event. At the Hockey World League Round Two event in Kuala Lumpur at the beginning of the year, Kazakhstan finished in seventh place and Thailand in fifth, so they left with the confidence of having won their final game, but both teams had good and bad moments at that tournament.
Kazakhstan will be desperate to avoid an opening match defeat after a 12-0 thrashing at the hands of Ireland in Kuala Lumpur set them on the back foot for the remainder of that particular tournament. Kazakhstan’s striker Vera Domashneva will need to take her opportunities, while ‘keeper Guzal Bakhavaddin will be working hard to maintain defensive structure.
For Thailand, the challenge will be to play the attacking hockey that saw them put 11 goals past Vietnam in the recent SEA Games, while shoring up a defence the allowed the lower-ranked Singapore to steal a 3-2 win at the same tournament.
Singapore were defeated 5-0 by Pool A rivals Malaysia when the two team’s met at the SEA Games in August and the team will need to be on top form as they take on India in their opening match and also have to play the top-ranked team, China. Singapore’s young team will have gained a huge amount of international experience when they played in the Hockey World League Round Two event in Kuala Lumpur. During that tournament, they beat Kazakhstan 4-1 and drew with Thailand before losing on shoot-out – both results indicating that the bottom ranked team may well be no pushover.
The competition gets underway on Saturday 28 October, with all eight teams in action. Pool A matches kick things off with China taking on Malaysia at 12:30, before India face Singapore at 14:30. Then Korea play Thailand at 16:30 before host nation Japan play Kazakhstan at 18:30.
To keep track of all the action from the Hero Asia Cup, please visit the competition event webpage or follow the Asia Hockey social media channels on the links below.
Twitter: @asia_hockey Facebook: Asian Hockey Federation