JAKARTA: Pakistan will face minnows Thailand in their opening match of the 18th Asian Games Hockey Tournament at Gelora Bung Karno Sports Complex here on Monday (today). Captain Muhammad Rizwan Senior is confident about winning their opening game. “We have been practicing in Pakistan since last three months and worked on our formation and also the execution. Head coach Roelant Oltmans has worked really hard with us and the result was seen in the practice match against Japan which we won 2-0,” captain Rizwan said Sunday. “We have our target fixed, that is reaching the final and winning, but still we will be focusing on each game separately.” This edition has the highest ever number of participating teams in the history of hockey competitions at the Asian Games. 22 teams from 14 countries will go head to head in the men’s and women’s categories in 60 matches over a course of 14 days. The winners of the men and women’s categories will book their place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. 12 men’s teams have been split into two groups, based on FIH World Rankings. In Pool A, Asian champions India (5) lead the group along with South Korea (14), Japan (16), Sri Lanka (38), Hong Kong China (45) and hosts Indonesia. In Pool B, Malaysia (12), Pakistan (13), Bangladesh (31), Oman (33), Thailand (47), and Kazakhstan (86) will go head to head to secure top positions. In the women’s category, 10 teams will face-off to achieve Asian dominance and a place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Pool A will see clashes between China, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong China, and Chinese Taipei, while India, Korea, Thailand, Kazakhstan and Indonesia will compete in Pool B. After 25 men’s and 20 women’s matches, the classification stage will begin on August 29. The women’s final is scheduled to be played on August 31, while the men’s final will be played on September 1. This edition of the Asian Games will be the first Asiad to have video referral system for all matches of the mega event. The video referral system has become a permanent feature in the sport and has been an essential tool for technical officials to make crucial decisions, which has contributed towards sports fairness. World’s 13th ranked Pakistan after facing 47th ranked Thailand will take on 33rd ranked Oman on Wednesday, 86th ranked Kazakhstan on Friday, then 12th ranked Malaysia on August 26, before playing last pool match against 31st ranked Bangladesh on August 28.Most successful hockey team: Pakistan’s medal tally in 15 hockey tournaments of the Asian Games is eight gold, three silver and three bronze medals- hockey was not included in the first two Asiads, in 1951 and 1954. From 1958 to 1990, Pakistan claimed seven gold and two silver medals in nine consecutive Asian Games, a remarkable sequence. This included four consecutive golds from 1970 to 1982. But in the next four Asian Games, Pakistan failed to reach even the final. In 1994, 1998 and 2006, Pakistan were third. In 2002 Pakistan failed to climb on to the podium, losing to Malaysia in the bronze medal play-off. In 2010, the Green Shirts regained the gold after 20 years. The first place also gave them an automatic qualification for the 2012 Olympics. At the last Asian Games, in 2014, Pakistan again managed to reach the final where they met India. Pakistan had defeated India in the pool match. The final was an exciting game between the two traditional rivals. It was 1-1 after the regular time. However, Pakistan went down in the shootout. Thus, they lost the chance to get an automatic qualification for the Olympics. Eventually, Pakistan failed to qualify for the Olympics – for the first time ever. This year again, along with the coveted gold there is the added incentive of direct 2020 Olympics qualification. Pakistan’s highest tally in a single tournament is 42 goals in 1990 – with five goals against. Pakistan’s biggest victory is 17-0 against Bangladesh in 1978 which is also the Asian Games record. Published in Daily Times, August 20th 2018.