Old order changeth

The glory, in the end, went to Pakistan, which regained the top spot after two decades and ensured a berth in the 2012 London Olympics. The team proved that grit and determination, more than display of skills, are essential to succeed. S. Thyagarajan reports.

A shift in the power alignment was discernible in the hockey competitions at Guangzhou. While South Korea, which came to defend the gold medal it won in 2006 — it also won the gold in 2002 — and China, the silver medallist last time, stepped down from the podium, making way for Pakistan and Malaysia (India won the bronze) in the men's section, India was winkled out of the medal bracket in the women's section as China went on to take the gold medal and South Korea the silver. Japan settled for the bronze.

Bland though these statistical details are, they convey the conflict among the traditional powers, at least in the men's category, and the emergence of new forces in the women's section such as South Korea, China and Japan.

The maxim the best team wins does not completely fit in the 2010 edition of the Asian Games. India was the most accomplished and balanced outfit on view, but still it failed to win the gold.

In the space of eight minutes, India self-destructed by allowing Malaysia to score twice, the last one a golden goal, in the semifinal and tumbled out of the reckoning for the gold medal.

The glory, in the end, went to Pakistan, which regained the top spot after two decades and ensured a berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

Pakistan proved that grit and determination, more than display of skills, are essential to succeed. Coach Michel van Heuvel, despite his disgusting tantrums and distasteful denigration of the media, finished on the winning side, while the more dedicated and hard working Spaniard, Jose Brasa, ended with a bronze and a chorus of uncomplimentary and ungrateful statements by the vested interests that have been hounding him from day one.

After all, it must be stressed that Pakistan claimed the gold medal thanks to the efforts of two of its stalwarts, Sohail Abbas and Rehan, who obviously had little to learn from the Dutch coach. However, the gold must do Pakistan, which is languishing in a multitude of problems, a world of good.

It would be uncharitable to call Malaysia a surprise packet. Under the self-effacing coach, Stephen van Huizen, the team had a set of competent, matured and brave men to take on such strong outfits as South Korea and China, apart from India in the semifinal. Players like Rahim Amin, Azlan Misron, and Muhammad Razie are worthy of a place in any Continental outfit.

India may have got on to the podium after missing it at the Doha Asian Games, but the bronze was a small consolation. It had the potential to win the gold but it let slip the opportunity. Whether the team was afflicted by the age-old disease of Indian hockey — schism — is not clear, but there were phases when it looked as if the team was adrift.

Arjun Halappa's consistency, Gurbaj Singh's barrage of centres, Sandeep Singh's awesome penalty corner hits — he had scored 11 goals in the tournament — Sardar Singh's excellent work in the deep, Chetri's courageous display under the bar and Tushar Khandekar's neat work in the frontline were the high points of India's performance.

South Korea's meek submission, despite fielding renowned penalty-corner experts such as Jing Jang and Yew Woon, was a shock to many. On home turf the Chinese men proved vulnerable to sustained pressure as did Japan, which was annihilated by Pakistan 8-2.

Kim Ryul, the Korean coach of the Chinese women's team and a very familiar figure in the international arena, was the happiest man on the day he led his squad to its third successive gold. That China was forced into extra time and the tie-breaker in the final came as a bit of a surprise. With world class stars like Zhao Yudiao, Ma Yibo and Fu Baorong in the ranks, China's dominance in women's hockey will continue for quite some time.

As Kim rightly pointed out, China should now concentrate on taking on the top European teams and Argentina at the next Olympics.

Thanks to her ability to convert penalty corners, Lee Seon Ok led South Korea to the podium for a silver medal. The Indian women's performance should be discussed in the context of the controversies that had dogged the team's preparations before and after the World Cup. A combination that included senior stars such as Surinder Kaur, Jasjit Handa, Binita Toppo and Saba Anjum should have been in the medal bracket had it not been for the ‘fatigue' factor that had taken a heavy toll. The expectations raised by Rani Ramphal did not come true as her form in the tournament was poor.

Coach Sandeep Somesh, always pragmatic and forthright in his observations, blamed his team for missing chances and lacking in fitness. He also touched upon the aspect of having to work more on several grey areas.

So, once again the Asian Games passed into history at Guangzhou. What is in store at Incheon, four years from now, is too premature to conjecture.