Hard work for Malaysia later

PLAYING in Group B, the Malaysian men's hockey team have avoided walking a tightrope in the Asia Cup which begins in Jakarta today.

Group A is where all the danger is, as there are three formidable teams fighting for two tickets.

Under the competition format, the top two teams in Group A and Group B qualify for the "Super Four" stage where they play a round robin.

From there, the top two qualify for the final and the bottom two play for bronze.

India, Pakistan and Japan are the crack teams fighting for the top two places in Group A while the other side, hosts Indonesia hope to play spoilers.

Malaysia should have less to worry about in Group B as they expect wins against Oman and Bangladesh. Arul Selvaraj's men only have to reckon with South Korea for top spot.

Defending champions India and Pakistan have injected many young players into their teams, and so have Japan after a disappointing 11th place at last year's Olympics.

India are next year's World Cup hosts and if they do not reach the Asia Cup Super Four, three other nations will battle for the podium and qualify.

Asia Cup hosts Indonesia, ranked 45th in the world, will aim for upsets while avoiding a hiding in the same breath.

And the Indonesians are looking to a Malaysian, coach K. Dharmaraj, to guide them to success.

Two months ago, Indonesia beat Uzbekhistan 6-1 in the AHF Cup for seventh place and then finished third in the Asian Games qualifiers after edging Thailand 4-3.

But in the Asia Cup, it looks like Indonesia have a mountain to climb against the more established sides in Asia.

India's choice of players has surprised many as they brought back retired players while injecting youth into their side for the Jakarta mission.

Coached by former player Sardar Singh — the India job is a first for him — his contract runs through the Commonwealth Games in August. And Sardar has been tasked to handle 10 new players at senior level.

In the 2017 edition, India were drawn with Japan, Pakistan and Bangladesh in Group A. India went on to win their third Asia Cup title by beating Malaysia 2-1.

Pakistan are an enigmatic side, coming with Dutch coach Siegfried Aikman whose team have 14 players with 15 caps each, three with less than 100 caps and only three who have played over 100 matches.

The Asia Cup opener today will see the young and dangerous of India and Pakistan do battle with the outcome eagerly awaited by millions of fans from both sides.

Though Japan failed to make an impact at the Tokyo Olympics, expect the Samurai, steeled with their famed fighting spirit, to be fierce battlers at the Asia Cup. With 10 players with under 20 caps, Japan loom dangerously.

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