As many as five senior players were recalled to the national side as Oman, under its hurriedly-appointed interim coach K K Poonacha, left for Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday morning for the gruelling Asian Champions Trophy.
The Oman Hockey Association (OHA), which recently called upon former national coach Poonacha to take charge of the side, decided to send the team after previously announcing a pullout, citing 'poor preparations' for the big event. In a bid to put together a strong team for the December 20-27 competition, which will feature India, Pakistan, Malaysia, China and Japan, five experienced players were brought into the 18-member squad - Basim Khatir, Samir Hulais, Ashraf Talib, Mohammed Ayaad and Anwar Saad.
The squad was named on Monday and the five players who were dropped from the side that played in last month's World Hockey League (WHL) Round 1 in Doha are Younis Ghabish, Ali Salim, Ikram Juman, Amjad Abdullah, Nawaf al Hassani. The team was picked by Poonacha from a pool of 22 probables who went through a three-day camp in Muscat, during which the Omani keepers were assisted by Pakistan's Shakir Muneer, who is an experienced keeper with Al Nasr club.
Following a poor showing in the WHL's Doha leg, the OHA last week initially decided that the national team was not ready for the Asian Champions Trophy, before finally being coaxed by the tournament's organisers in Doha to participate. Indian coach Poonacha, who is in charge of Omani club Ahli-Sidab this season, was picked on an interim basis and will have Sabil al Balushi as his deputy in Doha. Poonacha, who sees Oman's participation as an opportunity for the youngsters to play against Asia's top countries, made it clear that his team is unlikely to 'create wonders' after a few days' preparation. Speaking to Muscat Daily before the departure, Poonacha said, “It wasn't an easy decision for me to say 'yes' to the OHA's request and come on board in such short notice. Since I know the players well, I accepted the challenge.
The only positive that will come out of this tournament is the exposure that these boys will get by playing the big teams.” The coach added, “As far as results are concerned, no team can do wonders after just three or four days of practice.” Oman, which is now ranked seventh in Asia, will face Pakistan on Thursday in its tournament opener.
Oman captain and keeper Abduljabbar al Balushi said, “It is a huge tournament and we know we will be tested severely by teams like India and Pakistan. However, we are not afraid of defeats, we are excited to play against big opponents. We will have to face these teams at some point of time if we want to raise our standard.”
Oman team: Abduljabbar al Balushi (capt), Mohammed Ayaad, Aiman Abdullah, Salah al Saadi, Ashraf Talib, Khalid Juma, Ahmed al Balushi, Marwan Abdulrahman, Mohammed Hubais, Sami Awadh, Abdullah al Alawi, Anwar Saad, Mahmood Salim, Shahab Nahedh, Samir Hulais, Shakir Awadh, Basim Khatir and Wail Hassan.
Oman's fixtures: Pakistan (Dec 20), Malaysia (Dec 21), India (Dec 23), Japan (Dec 24), China(Dec 26)