Uzbekistan's delay may prompt HK organisers to change format
Uzbekistan's participation at the second men's Asian Hockey Federation Cup is under doubt and it could force local organisers to make a late change to the format of the eight-team event, which starts on Saturday at King's Park.
'We are still waiting for confirmation from Uzbekistan. If they don't turn up we will have to change the format from the current pool system to a round robin competition. I hope they won't pull-out as it will complicate things,' Sarinder Dillon, secretary general of the Hong Kong Hockey Association, said yesterday.
The eight teams are presently split into two pools of four. Hong Kong, who are the defending champions, head Pool A, which also includes Iran, Singapore and Uzbekistan. Pool B comprises runners-up last time Oman, Macau, Sri Lanka and Taiwan.
The week long tournament will give Hong Kong coach Mark Bailey a golden opportunity to assess his 18-strong squad under match conditions as they prepare for October's Asian Games in Pusan, South Korea. 'This tournament will be an ideal yardstick for the Asian Games. Obviously I would like to see us being involved in the latter stages of the competition and be in a position to defend our title,' Bailey said.
The association has already pencilled in 16 players for the Asian Games but have not made the list official as they wait for final approval from the Hong Kong Olympic Committee. But it is almost certain the squad will be led by Pakistan Association's Farooq Saeed who will lead the SAR at the AHF Cup.
This is the second time the AHF Cup is being held. Hong Kong, which also hosted the inaugural tournament back in 1997, was the chief promoter of a competition held to encourage the second tier Asian nations.
'In the mid-1980s the gap between the stronger Asian sides and the weaker ones got wider resulting in the latter sides dropping out of the regional competitions. We proposed that a second tier tournament be started to encourage the weaker nations and this led to the AHF Cup,' said Dillon.
The top two teams from the last AHF Cup - Hong Kong and Oman - were invited to take part in the 1999 Asia Cup. Hong Kong, playing alongside top Asian nations like India, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Malaysia, finished eighth out of nine.
As a reward for hosting this event, the Asian Hockey Federation has apparently invited Hong Kong to participate at the next Asia Cup too. But Hong Kong will want to show that they are worthy of a place amongst the big boys by winning this tournament.
Hong Kong squad: Farooq Saeed (captain), Arif Ali, Christopher Marshall, Akbar Ali, Shafiq Iqbal, Jasbir Singh, Thomas Ayers, Satpal Singh, Ishtiaq Khan, Asif Ali, Asghar Ali, Ng Shiu-bong, Mohammed Swalikh, Patrick Fok, Cheung Hin-kei, Jason Man Chi-yan, Harinder Singh, Gurbir Singh.