Big-time hockey arrives in Muscat on Thursday when the Hero Asian Champions Trophy begins with a clash between Asian Games gold medalists Japan and Malaysia.
The opening game will be a replay of the thrilling Asian Games title encounter in Jakarta which saw Japan stage a remarkable rally to clinch their first gold medal.
Leading Asian hockey nations – India, Pakistan, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and hosts Oman – will be competing in the biennial Hero Asian Champions Trophy at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex from October 18 to 28.
Defending champions India will take on home side Oman in the other fixture of the opening day.
The Hero Asian Champions Trophy is the biggest hockey event staged in the Sultanate of Oman, which has a century-old hockey tradition with earliest memories of playing against visiting British Naval ships that anchored here.
Oman’s capital, Muscat is the hub of Oman’s thriving hockey league with the high-stakes event being His Majesty’s Cup, the Gulf region’s most-prestigious tournament that started in 1971.
Former Olympians and stars from India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Egypt regularly appear for clubs vying for top honours in His Majesty’s Cup.
The Oman Hockey League is also a feature of the Gulf’s hockey calendar.
Oman, whose first continental participation was at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, has twice featured in past editions of the Asian Champions Trophy.
The Hero Asian Champions Trophy will place Muscat high among the continent’s hockey destinations.
The Gulf city had earlier played host to the Asian Hockey Federation Under-21 Championship and the Jakarta Asian Games Qualifiers.
“We are elated at hosting world-class players in the Sultanate of Oman.
Hockey lovers have been waiting to witness top-class hockey for several months after Muscat was chosen venue for the Hero Asian Champions Trophy,” says Capt. Talib Al Wahibi, President of the Oman Hockey Federation.
Asian Hockey Federation’s Chief Executive, Dato Tayyab Ikram said Muscat will showcase the best hockey talent in Asia over the next 10 days.
“The Asian Hockey Federation wants to make Muscat a professional sports venue. With support of the country’s government and the hockey association, Muscat will showcase top-notch hockey often in the future,” he said.
Title holders India will go all out to retain the Hero Asian Champions Trophy, but challenge will come from past champions Pakistan and South Korea, both of whom will be looking to erase the memories of the Jakarta Asian Games, where they failed to feature among the medalists. Both India and Pakistan have won the Asian Champions Trophy twice.
Japan, the new Asian Games gold medalists, and Malaysia too will be aspiring for a place on the podium.
Excited hockey fans have made a beeline for the tickets. All season tickets of the 4,000-capacity stadium are already sold out.
Just a handful of daily tickets are now available, but none for the showpiece India-Pakistan preliminary league fixture on October 20.