Hosts Oman begins its campaign against Chinese Taipei in the second match of Pool B on Thursday. The match starts at 8pm. Sri Lanka meets Kazakhstan in the opening match of the qualifier at 6pm.
While Oman, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan comprise Pool B, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Thailand and Afghanistan constitute Pool A.
It was only last month when former World Cup winners, Pakistan, and world No 16, Japan, along with Oman had played a tri-nation series, which was won by Japan.
Though Oman failed to win any game against its much-superior rivals, Pakistan and Japan, it held Asian heavyweight Pakistan to a 4-4 draw in a group game, earning words of praise from Japan and FIH Grade One coach Siegfried Aikman.
Ahead of the Asian Games Qualifier, which features eight teams, Oman's coach, Tahir Zaman, a former Pakistan great and FIH Grade One coach, told Muscat Daily on Wednesday, “The tri-nation series did a world of good for our players. It was an ideal way to prepare our boys for the Asian Games Qualifier.
“Playing against higher-ranked teams, Pakistan (world No 13) and Japan (world No 16), gave much-needed exposure to our boys and they are mentally better prepared to compete in the qualifier, beginning tomorrow.”
Zaman said, “The boys have trained hard and are confident of doing well at home.
“Our main aim is to secure qualification for Asian Games but we would like to do it in style by winning the title.”
The team has been bolstered by the return of former skipper Bassim Khater, a drag-flicker, and Zaman said “the boys are more adaptable to match-situations and are in better shape”.
Oman is ranked No 32 in world hockey rankings and is second-highest team in the qualifier, behind Bangladesh (No 30).
With four places at stake for the Indonesia Asian Games later this year (August 18-September 2), Oman certainly is well-equipped to seal a berth for the Games but Zaman wants more from his boys.
“We will aim for the title after achieving our primary goal of Asian Games qualification. The opening game against Chinese Taipei is crucial and a winning start will be a boost to our aim of title at home,” said Zaman.
The four qualifying teams will join hosts Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan and China at the Games.
Oman will be led by Mahmood al Hasani, who achieved a personal milestone during the tri-nation series last month when he played his 100th match for the national team.
On Tuesday, Oman won a friendly match against Hong Kong. Zaman opted for a training session on the eve of the opening clash and was satisfied with the team's preparations.
Oman squad: Muhanna al Hasani, Rashad al Fazari, Qasim al Shibli, Mahmood al Hasni (captain), Asaad Mubarak al Qasmi, Marwan al Raisi, Imad al Hasani, Khalid al Shaaibi, Ahmed al Noufali, Sami al Laun, Bassim Khater, Salah al Saadi, Ahmed al Balushi, Fahad al Noufali (gk), Wail Hassan Sanjor, Mahmood Bait Shamaia, Hamad al Fazari and Said al Hasni.
Tahir Zaman (coach), Khalid al Raisi (assistant coach), Shakir Munir (goalkeepers' coach) and Raed Marjan (team manager).
Fixtures: March 8: Pool B: Sri Lanka vs Kazakhstan, Oman vs Chinese Taipei; March 9: Pool A: Hong Kong vs Afghanistan, Bangladesh vs Thailand; March 10: Chinese Taipei vs Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka vs Oman; March 11: Hong Kong vs Bangladesh, Thailand vs Afghanistan; March 12: Chinese Taipei vs Sri Lanka, Oman vs Kazakhstan; March 13: Bangladesh vs Afghanistan, Thailand vs Hong Kong. March 15: Pool A 3rd vs Pool B 4th (5th-8th place); Pool B 3rd vs Pool A 4th (5th-8th place). March 15: Semifinals: Pool A 1st vs Pool B 2nd, Pool B 1st vs Pool A 2nd. March 16: 7th/8th playoff match; 5th/6th playoff match.
March 17: Third place playoff match; final.