Asian teams fail to make a mark in World Cup

Asian teams fail to make a mark in World Cup

Despair: Asian teams were no match to their European  counterparts in the World Cup hockey. Reuters

South Korea’s exit on Tuesday, despite a gutsy win over the Netherlands, was the final blow after the early elimination of India and Pakistan from the fight for the top spots.

The tournament, returning to India for the first time since 1982, was expected to be the ideal occasion for the teams from Asia to make a mark. India and Pakistan might have slipped out of the top six in world rankings but still, they were expected to cash in on the advantage of playing in familiar environs, with good crowd to support them. In the end, teams with better skill, fitness and tactics were the ones soaring high, as the Netherlands and Germany joined Australia and England in the semifinals.

India, ranked a lowly 12th, raised expectations thanks to their win over Pakistan in the first match. But the very next match against Australia showed up their deficiencies and it was steady downhill for the former champions who will now fight for the seventh position on Friday.

Pakistan’s fall has been shocking to say the least. The team seemed to have recovered from the defeat against India when they beat Spain but thereafter, the four-time champions faded badly, and will be battling to avoid the wooden spoon when they face Canada for the 11th place for the second time in World Cup history. They had beaten India in the match for the 11th and 12th placing at the 1986 World Cup in Willesden.

The country, which gave the game some of its biggest names, played without either plan or purpose. Over-reliance on Rehan Butt and Sohail Abbas also affected the team as both these men couldn’t rise to the occasion. Butt failed to shake off the defensive shackles while Abbas (check), world’s leading goal-scorer, just couldn’t get going with his drag-flicks. Pakistan simply did not have an alternative plan in place.

The players blamed their lacklustre display on long training camps that drained them of their energy. Indeed, Pakistan looked totally out of their depths here and as expected, calls to sack the coach are gaining momentum back home.

The Koreans paid the price for the one off-day they had, against New Zealand in their third match in Pool A.

They lost that game 1-2, putting them in a spot of bother. Despite a 9-2 win against Canada, they were left with too much to do in the match against the Netherlands.

After notching their first-ever podium finish at the Champions Trophy – they were third in the tournament at Melbourne in December – the Asian champions seemed primed for a big charge in New Delhi. They started off in rousing fashion too, stretching Germany all the way before settling for a 2-2 draw. But the pace of that game seemed to have taken its toll in later matches. The verve was back in the Netherlands game but by then, the equations had changed drastically.

They might have missed out on a spot in the last four, but the Koreans will be the highest-placed Asian team here, as they will take on Spain for the fifth spot on Friday. While India and Pakistan have a long way to travel before they can return to the top echelons, Korea, with their speed, fitness and skills, still seem to be ideally poised to raise Asia’s flag on the world stage in the near future.

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