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Action from the match between Oman and Pakistan Development Squad at the SQSC on Saturday (V K Shafeer/Muscat Daily)

Oman hockey team came up with an impressive display to hold the visiting Pakistan Development Squad 2-2 in the opening match of the five-Test Oman Pakistan Friendship Cup Hockey Series at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex (SQSC) on Saturday.Up against a talented and experienced visiting Pakistan squad, the hosts surprised their rivals by taking a 2-0 lead at halftime.

However, the experience and depth of the visiting team came to the fore as it rallied from a 0-2 deficit to draw 2-2 and kickstart an exciting series.

For the hosts, Bassim Khater converted a penalty corner and Shafi al Shatri slotted in the second goal.

But the visitors reduced the margin 1-2 by third quarter and then drew parity in the final session through Shan Irshad and Mubashar Ali respectively.

A strong series is what Oman coach K K Poonacha is looking for ahead of national team’s participation in the tenth Asia Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where Oman is pitted against some of the best teams of the continent.

The series is organised by the Oman Hockey Association (OHA) in cooperation with the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF).

Poonacha, a former Indian World Cupper, said, “We will get a fair idea of our strengths and weaknesses during the five matches and it will be good to iron out the weaknessess before we head to Asia Cup.

“To play a five-match series against Pakistan Development Squad that has some very talented youngsters followed by a camp in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia is the best possible way to prepare for a tough championship like Asia Cup.”

“We are scheduled to play a couple of friendly games against Malaysian seniors during the camp,” the Indian coach said Poonacha said the team’s main aim will be to finish among the top-six at the Asia Cup.

Oman is placed in Pool B along with South Korea, China and Malaysia. Pool A comprises India, Pakistan, Japan and hosts Bangladesh.

In Dhaka, Oman will begin its campaign against South Korea on October 12 followed by games against China (October 14) and Malaysia (October 16).

The semifinals and classification matches will take place from October 18 to 21 while the final will be held on October 22.

The Asia Cup winner will directly qualify for the World Cup to be held in Bhubaneswar, India next year.

Poonacha said his squad had a group of young and experienced players in the 22-member squad. Seven new faces are in the team with the final 18 for Asia Cup and Malaysia trip to be decided after the ongoing series.

The coach said he would look to improve upon the team’s penalty corner conversions during the matches against the visiting side and added that results would not affect his boys’ preparations for Asia Cup.

“What is important is to do well in Asia Cup. Results against the Pakistan team are not going to affect our morale. I am hopeful that my boys will put up good show, like today, in the remaining games,” said Poonacha.

courtesy: Muscatdaily