JUNIOR WORLD CUP BERTHS AT STAKE

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 19:13

Twenty four winters ago, a seed was sown in one of the Asian hockey’s enduring hockey bastions, Karachi in Pakistan. It was Asian Hockey Federation’s baby, Junior Asia Cup, which has now grown into a vibrant sporting event of Asia.

Early symptoms of hockey nations’ rise and fall were seen on this sporting genre, guiding them to proper development of sport in the continent. Later when the Junior Asia Cup was recognized as the qualifier for the Junior World Cup the otherwise competitive and much expected event has attained all contours of another of serious tournament, evoking in its way much interest among the pros and connoisseurs alike.

The AHF in fact added another feather to its cap, when, eight years after Asia Cup was put on place, it came out with a junior version.

Fittingly, the same city that witnessed the inaugural Asia Cup for seniors came to play another perfect role of host. The home team colts too, emulating their seniors who annexed the Asia Cup, brought the laurels. It was of no surprise in the title going the Pakistan’s way as it was the then reigning Junior World Cup champions.

In fact, Pakistan was invincible in the first three Junior Asia Cups before South Korea emerged on the scene to assert its supremacy.

When mercurial Shahbaz Ahmad lifted the Cup in Karachi on January 3, 1988, it marked the commencement of another glorious chapter of Pakistan history.

The next edition was held in Tun Razak Stadium in Kuala Lumpur in 1992. The venue changed while the fortune remained with Pakistan. Khalid Md. Sr led the side to second successive win while four years later at Delta Stadium in neighborhood Singapore, captain Md. Khalid Jr again confirmed Pakistan’s unquestioned superiority.

Pakistan ran out steam when faced Korea in the semis in Singapore, and with that their glorious run in the Junior Asia Cup came to a grinding halt. India was expected to make most once its tormentor Pakistan was seen off by the Koreans, but it was not to be. The Koreans won the Cup beating India 3-2 in a close fight.

India made its history in most unlikely place, Karachi, to win its maiden Junior Asia Cup title. Once the awesome Koreans were overcome in a tie-breaker in the semis, the stage was set for the famous India-Pakistan clash. It was time for Pakistan to regain its junior glory while for the visiting neighbour its time they win the eluding junior honour. India ultimately emerged champions on April 29, 2004. What is worth mentioning here is the identical scenario of the inaugural edition. The winner like in 1988, was the reigning Junior World Cup champions.

The mere fact that the Junior Asia Cup winners happened to be Junior World Cup champions too, vouchsafe for the vibrancy of Asian hockey.

Four years ago, depending champions hosted the Junior Asia Cup at Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh in the stadium that hosted the first Afro-Asian Games.

India and Pakistan met early – in the semis. In a match that witnessed sprayed tempers, the host emerged the winners (3-1) and locked horns with the Koreans in the final. The Peninsular team was cruising towards the rostrum with a 2-0 lead but caved in under pressure to end up 2-2 in the regulation time. Diwakar Ram struck the golden goal for India to defend the title.

Malacca now would see who among the three past winners, India, Pakistan and Korea will be successful or the emerging Malaysia will carve its own history.

Whoever wins the victory will be hockey’s.

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