DUBAi // UAE start their Challenge Cup of Asia title campaign today determined to reclaim the trophy after finishing runners-up in the last two years.
The UAE won the championship in 2009 when they hosted the International Ice Hockey Federation event, but lost to hosts Chinese Taipei in 2010 and then to Hong Kong in Kuwait last year.
The eight-team event gets under way in the Indian city of Dehradun today, and the UAE have been drawn in Pool A, alongside Thailand, Chinese Taipei and Kuwait, while Group B features India, Macau and Malaysia.
The Emiratis, comprising mainly of players from the two Emirates Hockey League teams Abu Dhabi Storms and Al Ain Theebs, will play Thailand in their opening game today, before meeting Kuwait on Tuesday and then Chinese Taipei the following day.
The No 1 and No 2 of Pool A qualify for the semi-final, where they wait for the winners of the play-off between the bottom two of Pool A and the top two of Pool B.
"Two years and silver is not enough for us," Suhail Al Muhairi, the team member, said. "As far as statistics go, we are doing fine, but I hope we can bring the cup home this time.
"Now we have to go for gold. We want to win the title. We are here to get only the first place; we are not happy with second place anymore and our target is to win gold."
The UAE have not had much time to train together because the players were busy with their clubs in the Emirates Hockey League (EHL), which finished on Sunday. Dubai Mighty Camels defeated the defending champions Storms 2-1 in the best-of-three final.
All three matches were close and Yuri Faikov, the Storms and UAE coach, believes they could not have asked for a better preparation ahead of their first game against Thailand today.
"It was disappointing to lose the EHL title," he said. "But we were really happy with how our national players performed. They got plenty of ice time and did most of the scoring the semi-final and final.
"So while, we did not get much time after the EHL to prepare for this tournament, playing competitive games is a much better preparation."
Players like the Storms' Khalid Al Suwaidi, Mubarak Al Mazrouie and Juma Al Dhaheri have performed well in the EHL, and Khalid Mubarak Al Qubaisi, the Storms and national team manager, believes they will be taking that confidence into the tournament.
"We did not get enough time to prepare because we have just finished our league, but I hope we can stick together and play as a team," Al Qubaisi said. "After finishing second for the last two years, I hope we will return home as champions this year."
With defending champions Hong Kong absent from the tournament, Al Muhairi expects two-time winners Chinese Taipei and Thailand to be their toughest competitors for the top honours.
"This year, it is going to be a strong competition," he said. "Thailand and Chinese Taipei, I am expecting them to be strong teams. So I think it will be a competition between three teams, us and those two.
"Any one of these three can win the championship, but I believe we will do it. We have a strong team and the EHL matches were a good preparation for the Asia Cup. We did not have a long camp, but I am confident the local players will represent the country very well."