No fear as Oman gears up to take on Asian heavyweights
Only last month, away from Oman, the national hockey squad was training hard and playing against some of the top Dutch clubs in the Netherlands. And the national team coach, Tahir Zaman of Pakistan, seemed to have achieved the primary objective during the 17-day camp.
Ahead of the team's participation at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta-Palembang in Indonesia later this month, Zaman spoke to Muscat Daily on Tuesday and started on a positive note by saying, “Our boys have no fear of facing top-class opposition. They have found a new belief in themselves to fight. I think, it is a very encouraging sign.”
Oman, which has struggled to better its seventh-place finish at Asian Games since making its debut in 1982, has had a long history of suffering lop-sided defeats to Asian powerhouses like India, Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia at the past Games.
“Not anymore, I would say as they no longer fear these heavyweights and are not in awe. Earlier, the team used to crumble against these strong teams, who undoubtedly, are much stronger and more experienced than us,” said Zaman, a former Pakistan World Cup winner.
“Our team played against some of the top Dutch Premier Division clubs like the league runner-up Bloemendaal and Oranje Rood among others. We had a total of 11 friendly matches including one against Belgium league champion Dragons. We won six and lost five. More importantly, the boys gained a lot of confidence and we found out our shortcomings.
“We are now working on those during our domestic camp that concludes on Wednesday before regrouping on August 12. We will have a final three-day camp before departing for
Indonesia on August 16,” said Zaman, a former Pakistan captain and Olympian.
Ahead of Asian Games opening match against Bangladesh on August 20, Oman will play two friendlies against former Asiad champions South Korea and Pakistan on August 17 and 18 respectively.
“The idea is to play against superior teams as only then can our players improve,” said Zaman, a FIH high-performance coach and coaches' educator.
At the Asian Games, Oman has been clubbed in Pool B with Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand and hosts Indonesia. Pool A comprises India, South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong.
Top-six spot a reality
Zaman said the main goal will to finish among the top-three in the pool behind Pakistan and Malaysia and then fight for the fifth-sixth place spot.
“We know the fact that Pakistan and Malaysia are superior teams than us. But that doesn't mean that we go against them with a losing mentality.
“I promise, my boys will be aggressive against them. It is a different matter that during the course of the match a tactical review, if needed, may force a change in our approach. But, we will like to score goals and be positive.
“A top-six is a realistic target and I hope we can achieve it though at this moment, my main concern is of injuries to couple of my key players,” said Zaman.
“Three of our key forwards are facing fitness battle and they include experienced Bassim Khater, Muhanna al Hasani and Imad al Hasani,” said the coach after a training session held at the Seeb Club astro-turf pitch.
“During the camp here we have focused on agility and fitness and I am happy that the boys are receptive to my approach. We have also worked on penalty corner conversions with three drag-flickers among us including two U20 players in Ammar al Shaaibi and Rashad al Fazari,” said the coach.
“Our goalkeepers, Fahad al Noufali and Said al Hasani, have also shown improvement during the European tour under our goalkeeping coach Shakir Munir. I hope that we manage to have a full-strength squad ahead of our departure,” said Zaman.
Squad: Muhanna al Hasani, Rashad al Fazari, Qasim al Shibli, Mahmood al Hasani (captain), Asaad al Qasmi, Marwan al Raisi, Imad al Hasani, Khalid al Shaibi, Ahmed al Noufali, Bassim Khater, Salah al Saadi, Ahmed al Balushi, Fahad al Noufali (gk), Wail Sanjoor, Mahmood Ashoor, Hamad al Fazari, Said al Hasani and Ammar al Shaibi.
Oman schedule: August 20: vs Bangladesh, Aug 22: vs Pakistan, Aug 24: vs Thailand, Aug 26: vs Indonesia, Aug 28: vs Malaysia. Aug 29-30: Classification matches, September 1: Final.