ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After last year’s inaugural tournament in Hong Kong, the 2009 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia was hosted and won by the United Arab Emirates.
The United Arab Emirates was eager to host the tournament in their capital where it was up to 38°C (100°F) outside and made it a successful event for the Asian teams that do not compete in the World Championship program.
The last two games for gold and bronze were broadcast live and one of the highest Sheikhs – the National Security Advisor and the Chairman of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, His Highness Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan – was in attendance for the Emirate’s gold medal win.
The United Arab Emirates, coached by Serb Marko Zidarevic, won its group by beating Macau (7-0), Singapore (4-2) and Hong Kong (5-1) before downing Malaysia 3-1 in the semi-final.
Thailand was undefeated in its group against India (14-0), Malaysia (8-2) and Mongolia (5-3), and also won its semi-final game, 6-4 against Hong Kong.
It all came down to the group winners. After a scoreless beginning, Arthit Thamwongsin opened the scoring for Thailand in the second period but it finished with a 3-2 lead for the Emirates. Thailand equalized in the last stanza but the Emirates scored two more times to win the game 5-3. Juma Mohamed al Dhaheri was their hero with a hat trick, his second of the tournament.
In the second edition of the Challenge Cup of Asia, the teams improved, only newcomer India, using equipment borrowed from the Emirates, had a tough time in its first-ever international games. But the goal was to learn and have fun, which they did when they celebrated their first goal in a game against Malaysia.
The sport-crazed United Arab Emirates isn’t a major force in ice hockey yet but after they organized the Arab Cup for the first time last year, the Emirates made further progress in the eight-team tournament.
“We won the bid to stage this championship, which was a massive step forward in creating an awareness of such an important competition among the Emirati youth,” the Emirati national team player Mohammed Aref al Jachi said to The National. “We already have a huge following even though most of the youngsters play for recreation. We need to make them play at more competitive levels so that we have a larger squad to select for the national team. The facilities are top class and so is the infrastructure in other Gulf States.”
He also hopes that the tournament caught the eye of other nations in the region. Guests from other Arab countries were in attendance as Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman are all working towards building ice hockey programs. Kuwait is also a candidate to rejoin the International Ice Hockey Federation at the Annual Congress during the 2009 World Championship in Berne.
March 15, 2009
Thailand 14 - India 0
Hong Kong 1 - Singapore 1
Malaysia 4 - Mongolia 2
UAE 7 - Macau 0
March 16, 2009
India 0 - Mongolia 10
Malaysia 2 - Thailand 8
Macau 0 - Hong Kong 11
Singapore 2 - UAE 4
March 17, 2009
Thailand 5 - Mongolia 3
Singapore 6 - Macau 1
Malaysia 10 - India 1
Hong Kong 1 - UAE 5
March 19, 2009
Singapore 5 - India 0 (Place 5-8)
Mongolia 4 - Macau 1 (Place 5-8)
Thailand 6 - Hong Kong 4 (Semi-final)
UAE 3 - Malaysia 1 (Semi-final)
March 20, 2009
Macau 8 - India 0 (7th place)
Mongolia 5 - Singapore 1 (5th place)
Hong Kong 3 - Malaysia 4 (Bronze Medal Game)
UAE 5 - Thailand 3 (Gold Medal Game)