Asian teams vow to improve in World Cup
Asian teams are hoping to bring an end to European and Australian
domination of field hockey when the World Cup opens in the Indian
capital on Sunday.
Former champions India and Pakistan face each other in the third
match on the opening day, a clash that will determine their progress in
the 12-nation tournament.
India, who won the last of their eight Olympic gold medals in 1980,
are looking to bounce back after an unprecedented failure to qualify for
the Beijing Games two years ago.
The Indians, now ranked a lowly 12th, qualified for this World Cup
only by virtue of being the hosts.
Pakistan, who have won a record four World Cup titles, have not won a
major tournament since their last Cup win in Sydney in 1994 and finished
eighth - their lowest Olympic placing - in Beijing.
The supremely fit South Koreans, ranked fifth, have been left to
carry the Asian flag but are still looking for their first international
title despite winning a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
However, Pakistan coach Shahid Ali Khan is confident that Asia's
turnaround is imminent.
"Asia has been playing catch-up in the last few years," Khan, a
former goalkeeper, told AFP. "But I am very optimistic that besides
South Korea, Pakistan and India too will prove themselves in this World
"Both Pakistan and India have the talent to bounce back. South Korea
has shown us the way and any - or all -- of us must finish in the top
South Korean coach Shin Seok-Kyo said his team was close to winning a
major title. "We had a very good Champions Trophy last year," said Shin
of his team's bronze medal in Melbourne two months ago. "That has given
us a lot of confidence."
South Korea have dominated at the continental level, winning the last
two Asian Games titles in 2002 and 2006, and bagged the Asia Cup last
year to qualify for the World Cup. However, former Pakistan captain
Shahbaz Ahmed, one of the game's outstanding strikers, dismissed
suggestions of an Asian revival.
"Asian hockey lags far behind, at least in India and Pakistan," he
said. "I can see only the South Koreans giving the Europeans and
Australians a fight in this World Cup."
Veteran hockey critic Patrick Rowley of England, who has reported on
all the World Cups since the tournament started in 1971, agreed with
"The gap between the Asian and European teams is very wide and it
will take a lot of time to narrow that gap," he said. "I don't see it
happening in New Delhi."