KUALA LUMPUR: The ignominy of missing out on a World Cup berth looming large over its head, an under-pressure Indian men's hockey team would be hoping to open its campaign in the ninth Asia Cup with a morale-boosting win over Oman in Pool B, here today.
Well aware that it is their last chance to qualify for 2014 FIH World Cup, the Indians cannot afford to let their guards down at any moment as nothing short of a victory in the continental championship can book their ticket to next year's quadrennial event in The Hague, Netherlands.
For the eight-time Olympic champions India and neighbours Pakistan, the Asia Cup is a do-or-die tournament as one of them faces the prospect of missing out on a World Cup berth for the first time since the launch of the tournament in 1971.
Defending champions South Korea, however, can heave a sigh of relief as they recently became the eighth team to qualify for the World Cup after being promoted from first reserves to guaranteed participants, courtesy Argentina's title win in the Pan American continental championship.
India would also be looking to obliterate the memories of their disappointing performance in the last edition of the Asia Cup held in Kuantan, Malaysia in 2009, where they finished a disappointing fifth in a seven-team contest.
Considering the huge demand at stake, it would prove be a Herculean task for India to finish at the top of the podium.
To add to it, the failure to qualify for the World Cup will be a big embarrassment for the Indians who will be desperate to avoid the 2008 Beijing Olympics debacle.
However, the road to the semifinals should not be much of a problem for India. They are placed in a relatively easy Pool B alongside South Korea, Bangladesh and Oman while Pakistan, Japan, Malaysia and Chinese-Taipei complete the Pool A line-up. India are expected to start as overwhelming favourites against Oman at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium here, and a comprehensive win will undoubtedly lift the team's spirit ahead of their tough second pool encounter against title holders Korea on August 26. The Indians will round off their pool engagements against Bangladesh on August 28.
Meanwhile, Oman are looking for good results on their Asia Cup debut. In his comments to Times Sport, Oman Hockey Association general secretary Redha Taqi Al Lawati said Oman are aiming to end on a good note in the tournament.
"This is a big tournament for us and to play against some of the toughest sides itself is going to be a challenging task. But we know our boys can really do well here," said Redha.
Oman, who will also be taking part in the Asian Champions Trophy in Japan in November, had rigorous training camps both at home and two European countries before arriving in Malaysia a few days ago.
The 18-member side, who are being coached by former German international Oliver Kurtz, arrived early to acclimatise themselves to the conditions, they also played a few practice games against some strong local teams.
"The boys gained in experience during their stay here. The team are in good spirits now and are eagerly looking forward for the tournament," Redha had said.
Redha also said his side can give a good fight against India.
"India is a strong opponent. We played against them in the past and we can certainly give them a fight!" he said.
Oman squad: Aiman Al Katheri (captain), Fahd Al Nofli, Said Al Hassani, Mohammed Hubais, Younus Ghabish, Hashim Al Shatri, Bassim Khatir, Ali Salim Al Zadjali, Salah Al Saadi, Qasim Al Nofli, Samir Hulais, Abdullah Al Alawi, Mahmood Ashowwor, Wael Sangour, Mahmoud Al Hassani, Ahmed Sabeel, Sami Awad and Shihab Nahad.
Today's fixtures: Oman vs India; Pakistan vs Japan; Malaysia vs China.