Hockey at the Asian Games today is no longer what it used to be, says former international Maninderjit Singh.
Maninderjit, fondly known as Mike, said teams like Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia used to dominate the world rankings in the past but today, India is the only Asian nation in the world’s top 10.
Australia leads in the latest International Hockey Federation rankings followed by Argentina, Belgium, Netherlands and India.
“Malaysia is the next best Asian country at 12th. This was not the case in the past,” said Maninderjit.
“Let’s look at some of the teams in the Asian Games. India remains a formidable side and they have been consistent in play and performance. Japan is investing heavily in the game as the team wants to make an impact at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“China, qualifying for the World Cup for the first time, is surprisingly missing from the Asian Games while Pakistan is going through a revival and faces several internal issues. The South Korean team, I was told, has financial constraints and that has hurt the team’s preparation.”
As such, Maninderjit, who played in the 1994 and 1998 Asian Games, believes India has what it takes to win the gold medal at the Asian Games but Malaysia should dribble its way to the final provided they top their group.
The Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) has targeted the gold medal and qualification for the Tokyo Olympics.
The men’s team was whacked 7-0 by England in the opening match at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia in April before managing a face-saving 3-0 win against Wales.
The national team lost 2-1 to India and drew 1-1 against Pakistan before edging Scotland 2-1 in the fifth and sixth place playoffs.
Stephen van Huizen’s men went on a five-match tour against ‘Australia A’ recently. The Malaysian team won four (4-2, 3-2, 3-0, 6-1) and drew one (2-2).
Echoing similar sentiments is Maninderjit’s former team mate I. Vikneswaran.
Vikneswaran, who represented Malaysia at the 1994 Asian Games and is now Kuala Lumpur Hockey Association development committee chairman, said: “India has been performing well but our past meetings against them have been rather positive.
“Malaysia should take the competition one step at a time … top the group and our players could end up meeting India in the final.”
India won the gold at the 2014 edition in Incheon, South Korea and will want to defend their title en route to securing a spot in the Olympics.
“MHC is aiming for the gold medal but to me, a silver is a more realistic target.”
Catch Maninderjit and Vikneswaran on BFM’s ‘Bar None‘ (89.9) this Saturday (10am) as they speak about grassroots hockey and the national team’s chances at the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia.