Asian Champions Trophy – A sneak peek

Credit: Hockey India

Hockey has been quite synonymous with Chennai since the early 19th century when the Madras Cricket Club started conducting the Madras Hockey Tournament. If we turn the pages of history, one of the fond memories of watching hockey in Chennai would be India drubbing South Korea 7-2 in the final of the Asia Cup in 2007. It is 2023 now, and Chennai’s love affair with hockey continues as the Asian Champions Trophy will be held at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium from August 3 to August 12. India, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia are the six participating teams. Here’s a sneak peek of the six sides:


At 19, Japan is the second-lowest-ranked team in the tournament. The runners-up at the paevious edition of Asian Champions Trophy had a disappointing time at the World Cup, slipping to defeats against South Korea, Belgium, and Germany. Moreover, they also lost 0-8 to India in a 9th to 16th place playoff match. Ultimately, they finished 15th, tied with Chile. Even in the FIH Nations Cup hosted by South Africa, they could only finish sixth.

The heady days of both the men’s and women’s teams winning the Gold at the Asian Games in 2018 seem to be a long time ago now. Perhaps Koji Yamasaki (38 goals) and Shota Yamada (defender) can draw some inspiration from the past success and guide the younger lot in the tournament. Kentaro Fukuda, the forward, who plays for Gifu Asahi Club, Takashi Y, the goalkeeper, and Ken Nagayoshi, the penalty corner specialist, are some of the other key players. Japan will begin their campaign with a game against South Korea on August 3.

Prediction – Fifth

South Korea:

At Chennai, South Korea will look to repeat their memorable feat of winning the tournament in 2021. The ninth-ranked side has a very experienced core, with a substantial number of the players now over 30 years of age. Jang Jong-hyun, their penalty corner specialist, with 139 goals against his name, is himself 39. The South Korean stalwart was a part of the national side as far back as 2004 when they played in the Athens Olympics.

Jong-hyun was definitely in prime form in the recently-concluded World Cup, exemplified by his performance in the crucial match against Argentina, where he netted two of the three goals and also assisted the other one. Lee Nam-Yong, the captain, and Kim Jaehyeon, the ever-present goalkeeper, also would be hoping to make an impression. On a side note, Korea’s journey in field hockey has been praiseworthy, as despite having just 150-200 players to choose from, they continue to find themselves in the top 10 of the rankings.

Prediction – Runners-Up


At 25, China is the lowest-ranked side in the tournament. The last time they took part in the Asian Champions Trophy was back in 2016 when they finished a lowly fifth out of six teams. Coached by Kime Sang-ryul, China would depend on the likes of Du Chen, midfielder and captain, Guo Xiaping, another midfielder, Ao Weibao and Su Lixing, as they look to give some of the fancied sides a run for their money.

In the recent past, China has been investing more in hockey, via a school-based initiative. Hopefully, somewhere in the future, it would yield results.

Prediction – Sixth


For long, Malaysia has promised much but, on most occasions, flattered to deceive. They haven’t qualified for the Summer Olympics since Sydney back in 2000 and took the 13th slot out of 16 teams in the 2023 World Cup. Malaysia occupied the third position for five Asian Champions Trophies in a row but had to withdraw from the 2021 edition of the tournament due to a Covid-19 situation.

The Malaysian side will depend heavily on their ace dragflicker, Rahim Razie. The hardworking and experienced Razie has earned 312 caps and scored 107 goals for the national side. With Arul Anthoni Selvraj as the coach, Malaysia has also looked to rejig their plans. The talented Azrai Aizad is set to play as the midfielder. Marhan Jalil, the skipper, could end up taking the role of defender, with Faizal Saari moving up to midfield.

Prediction – Third


The Asian country, one of the traditional powerhouses of hockey, has been on a steady decline in the recent past. Pakistan couldn’t qualify for either of the 2016 or 2020 Olympics. They missed out on progressing to the 2023 World Cup. Even in the FIH Nations Cup last year, they were placed only seventh among eight teams. To make matters worse, Siegfried Aikman, the head coach, decided to step down from his role due to issues with salary.

Muhammad Umar Bhutta, the captain and midfielder, is the most experienced hand (198 caps) in the set-up. Pakistan has also looked to overhaul the set-up by bringing in a slew of junior players who were part of their successful Junior Asia Cup campaign. Abdul Rehman and Abdul Shahid – nine goals each – starred for Pakistan in that tournament.

Prediction – Fourth


Last but not least, we have to talk about the hosts, India. The Asian nation would look to put their disappointing show in the World Cup behind them, where they could only take the ninth slot. This is also an important tournament for the new coach Craig Fulton, who would look to lay down the marker ahead of the Asian Games. So far, India have had a mixed bag under Fulton’s tenure – finishing third in the four-nation tournament in Spain, alongside winning four and losing four in the Pro League.

If you take a glance through the Indian squad, Harmanpreet Singh’s name shines brightly. The India captain and dragflick specialist was in splendid form in the Pro League and the four-nation tournament in Spain. However, he didn’t exactly have a good time in the World Cup. Selvam Karthi, the local boy, who struck a brace in a recent Pro League game against Germany, is a player worth keeping an eye on. He does seem to have an uncanny knack for finding the angles and cracking goals inside the circle.

India will lock horns against China in their opening fixture on August 3.

Prediction – Winner

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