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Azerbaijan hockey team players during a practice session on the eve of their World Hockey League match at Al Rayyan hockey ground, yesterday. Azerbaijan take on hosts Qatar today at 6.00pm. In the first match today, Sri Lanka clash with Turkey at 4.00pm. RIGHT: Qatar coach, Shaiful Azli (left) talks to his players during a training session at Al Rayyan Stadium, yesterday. Pictures by: Abdul Basit
Doha: Hosts Qatar will be looking to make home advantage count against a formidable Azerbaijan in their opening match of the World Hockey League (FIHWHL), at Al Rayyan Stadium here today.
The Qatar leg of the FIHWHL is likely to be a keenly fought affair and the hosts have their task cut out in the six-day tournament which ends on December 2. The Qatari side coached by Shaiful Azli has shown their mettle in the two friendlies held last week against Turkey, winning both of them by convincing margins.
But, the hosts which gained Test status in February from FIH, the world governing body, will have to raise their game by several notches against Azerbaijan.
The Eurasia country has come to Qatar with a team full of ex-Olympians and former internationals from Pakistan.
However, Qatar coach Azli is not daunted by the presence of some former Olympians in the Azerbaijan ranks.
“We have a young side and they have come up with some strong performance in the recent times and I’m sure they can match any team. There is no doubt that Azerbaijan is a strong side and they have several experienced players. But I don’t think they have played together a lot. It will take them sometime to settle and so it is good to meet them early in the tournament,” said Azli.
Qatar Hockey Federation President, Hassan Al Qadi said the team morale is very high and the boys are determined to give their best.
“Every team in the League is very competent and the onus is on us to put up a good show,” said Al Qadi.
The team led by Yousef Al Sulaiti and has in their ranks players of high caliber like Savio Nayak, Juned Coutinho, Rohit Charles, Sohail Mustafa and Hamad Sahotti.
Nayak, a former India Junior International, said all teams in Qatar are well-balanced and the margin of difference between the teams is not huge.
“There’re no escape routes. All teams are equally strong. But we aren’t going to lose our sleep thinking about the quality of the opposition. We’ll put our best foot forward,” said Nayak, who made his debut in the German league with Munich-based club Rot-Weiss this season.
Qatar had also impressed in the recent friendlies against Singapore held in Singapore.
“Singapore had almost all national players in the fray. Victory has given us some momentum. But again, it all depends on how you perform on a given day,” added Nayak, who plays for Wanderers Hockey club in the local league.
Besides the hosts and Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka and Turkey, which will compete in the first match today at 4.00pm, will be seen in action in the round-robin tournament. Oman, one of the two countries representing the GCC in the tournament, completes the five-team line-up.
Only one team will qualify for Round 2 from the Qatar leg of the FIHWHL in the competition organised by FIH.
The FIHWHL will be held over two years, and will serve as qualifiers for the Olympics and the Hockey World Cup. Qatar made its international hockey debut against Oman, ranked seventh in Asia, in a Test match at the Al Rayyan Stadium. Qatar lost both the matches.
In April, Qatar created history by winning their first ever international fixture when they edged the visiting Brazilian team 3-2 in the first Test of a 5-match series at Al Rayyan Stadium.