ABU DHABI // The South China Sea derby came to the ice of the capital yesterday as Macau and Hong Kong faced off in the Challenge Cup of Asia at Zayed Sports City. However, while the two Special Administrative Regions of China are just a short ferry ride apart, there remains a gulf between the two nations on the ice.
As Chi To Scott Yang, the Hong Kong netminder for their 1-1 draw against Singapore on Sunday, said before the game: "Macau is a team we are supposed to beat. They understand we always beat them. It's more of a friendly reunion." Macau were pointless in the 2008 Challenge Cup of Asia and started this year's tournament with a 7-0 defeat against the UAE. Macau have never vanquished Hong Kong on the ice and it was a situation that they never looked like rectifying.
Danny Chiu opened the scoring for the Hong Kongers with just 35 seconds on the clock and two minutes later Wai Yuen Chu doubled the lead. The period ended 3-0 and the game continued in a similar vein as Hong Kong put pressure on the overworked Macau netminder Telin Chu. The Hong Kongers were effective in generating traffic in front of Chu and the next periods both yielded four goals for Hong Kong as their netminder King Chi King Ho remained largely a spectator.
"I expected the win but didn't expect this score," said Yang, after watching his team's 11-0 victory from the bench. "It was an improvement from the Singapore game and we needed to run up the score in case goal differential comes into play. We did what we had to do." Apart from Macau and the tournament debutants India, the other nations in Abu Dhabi still harbour championship hopes. But more importantly, the Challenge Cup of Asia is seen as an opportunity for the long-term growth of the sport in unlikely locales, including the UAE.
While ice hockey and the UAE might seem unusual, even incongruous, bedfellows, the metaphorical playing field at the tournament is more even than it appears. A lack of full-size rinks and a lack of affordable ice time are common complaints among the competitor nations. Perhaps nowhere is this more stark than with Mongolia, who opened the day's action with a 10-0 victory over India. "We don't have an indoor ice rink," said Enkhbayar Shinebayar, the head coach.
"We can play outside only between December and February. During that time we can play on the natural ice but in the middle of February the ice is gone and we then do off-ice training," he added. Shinebayar was impressed with his opponents but felt his team should have done better against an Indian side, who occasionally displayed some tactical naivety. "I am happy with the game today, but I think we could have scored more. India showed spirit. They are like where we were a few years ago."
In another one-sided encounter yesterday, Thailand defeated Malaysia 8-2. In a feisty game, the scoreboard was untroubled until the Thais took the lead with eight minutes left in the first period. Led by their captain and man-of-the-match Tewin Chartsuwan, the Thais then put away seven more goals, and with two minutes left looked on course for a shut-out before the battling Malaysians scored two consolation strikes.
To add to Malaysia's woes, their influential forward Loke Ban Kin - the tournament's best player in 2008 - left the ice injured. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org