The Asian Games has not been a very happy hunting ground for Indian hockey. In seven editions since its introduction in 1958 at Tokyo, India could win gold only twice — both times in Bangkok — in 1966 and then 1998.
Pakistan are the undisputed kings, having won seven gold, four of them in succession from 1970 to 1982. With South Korea becoming a major force; and Malaysia, Japan and China improving, India's chances of winning gold look even more difficult. India lost to Korea 1-2 when they last met in the World Cup in Germany and went down 1-3 to Pakistan in a bilateral series.
Medals apart, India have to finish among the top two because that will guarantee automatic qualification for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
The eight-team competition starting on December 2 will be the first event under the new Olympic qualification system, as per which Asia have three direct qualification quotas. China, as hosts, qualify automatically while the other two — winners and runner-up — will go to the Olympic Games.
If China win gold in Doha, then the bronze medallist would qualify. And if India fail to qualify this time around, they will have to win one of the three qualification tournaments — in Japan, Chile and New Zealand — to ensure they do not miss out on a Beijing appearance.
That makes qualifying difficult, as even one bad day could mean missing the Olympics altogether.
The competition for European stalwarts like Netherlands, Spain and Germany is easier as Europe has three direct berths which will go to the three top-placed teams in the 11th EuroHockey Nations Championship to be held next year.
With a big gap between the three big guns and the rest of them like Great Britain, France, Belgium and Poland, the latter most probably will have to go through the qualifying tournaments.
In the women's section too, the winners and runners-up will make it to the Olympics besides the hosts. However, if China win gold — which is possible as they are a major force in women's hockey — the extra quota will go to Oceania. Which means if the Indians fail to finish among the top two, they will have to go through the qualifying tournaments to be held in Canada, Azerbaijan and Russia. They will have to win at least one of them. Teams for these qualifying tournaments will be selected on the basis of their world rankings.