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ACW 2007: India and Japan stand even chance (1/31/2004)
January 3, 2004: India and Japan, who entered their full strength national teams, are tipped to be title contenders for the 5th Asia Cup starting here in New Delhi on Sunday.

Two other dominant Asian power houses China and South Korea have sent their raw and inexperienced teams, which obviously leaves India and Japan a good chance to grab the opportunity and stake their claim for their first Asia Cup crown in 18 years. Upset results from others in the fray --Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Singapore --- is a distant possibility, though such things will add colour and glamour to the event.

Though it is understandable in the case of South Korea whose priority at this juncture is to get into the Olympics fold through the next month’s Olympic Qualifier, China surprised the organizers by not sending their full-strength team. Though there are nine players from their silver winning Sydney Champions Trophy teams here but without spearhead Fu Bao Rang, towering goalkeeper Nie Ya Li and penalty corner shooter Tang Chun Ling the Chinese team lacks the steam, at least on paper, to do anything big here in the fifth Asia Cup to be commenced in a day from now.

China are already into the Athens Olympics hockey by virtue of being the Asian Games champions. The Asia Cup therefore is an ideal forum for them to fortify their supremacy and ensure a easy passage to next world cup. But perhaps they chose to try out new faces as a part of preparation for the Olympics. Even their Miracle Coach Changback Kim is not here. Even more surprising is the presence of just two players -- Li Aili and goalkeeper Zhang Yimung -- from the Afro-Asian Games Chinese team. China is known for their tight defence and if these new girls can match even fifty percent of their seniors, prospects of the others teams will be in danger.

Korean team has five debutants and there is not even a single player who donned Korea’s last two assignments – Champions Trophy and Afro-Asian Games -- are here. Just three players from the last Champions Trophy team—Bo Mi Kim, who played just a match there at Sydney, Jin A Nam and Na Young Kang – form the young team. Heartening news of course is presence of seven from the Afro-Asian Games team.

Like Korea, Japan are also in the Auckland Qualifier list. But the Japanese girls seemed to have given equal importance to both World Cup and Olympics, by brining a strong team under the captaincy of fearsome defender Keiko Miura. With ever reliable Sakae Morimoto in the midfield, nippy Kaori Chiba at the centre-forward position and up and coming star Tomomi Komori to the goal list, Japan seems invincible. If India’s captain Surajlata Devi can bottle up Sakae Morimoto (that of course if they meet in the classification stages) and let the classic Jothi Sunita Kullu to calmly work for the goals, India are really in a chance for the World Cup. Considering the form Sanggai and goalie Helen Marry Innocent displayed a couple of months ago at Hyderabad, hopes are high that they will start the new year in a grand manner and prove the FIH who have left them out from the Auckland Qualifier wrong.

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