TAIPEI CITY – Chinese Taipei claimed back the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia title in the event’s third edition by edging the United Arab Emirates 3-2 in the gold medal game before a sell-out crowd on home ice at Taipei Arena.
The IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia gives Asian countries that are not in the World Championship program, or that play in the lowest division, a chance to compete on Asian soil. While Japan, Korea, China and DPR Korea – the four best nations from the Far East in the IIHF World Ranking – did not take part, the tournament was an opportunity for nine other Asian nations to compete at a similar level.
After the first tournaments in Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi, the third edition took place in Taipei City. Chinese Taipei won the first tournament, but while not taking part one year later, the United Arab Emirates claimed the title in 2009 on home ice.
And it was these two teams that challenged each other for gold. Both nations were seeded in the group that was won by the Emiratis thanks to a 2-1 victory over the home team. The Emirates won the group with a couple of more narrow scores, a 1-0 win against Mongolia and a scoreless game against Hong Kong.
UAE had the best goalie of the tournament in their ranks, Khaled Al Suvaidi. This probably explains the goals against.
Chinese Taipei defeated Mongolia 7-0 and Hong Kong 3-1 in their other preliminary round games to claim second place in Group A.
Thailand and Malaysia claimed the other spots in the semi-finals in Group B, leaving behind Kuwait in their first tournament since rejoining the IIHF, and also Macau and Singapore.
Chinese Taipei defeated Thailand 4-2 and the United Arab Emirates beat Malaysia 4-1 in the semis to make a Chinese Taipei vs. UAE rematch for gold on Sunday perfect.
In front of a full house of more than 1,000 enthusiastic and loud hockey fans and live TV audience, Chinese Taipei had the better start into the game.
Chinese Taipei made use of a man advantage with less than two minutes to go in the first period to gain the lead. At 32:25, again on a power play, the home team got its second goal past Al Suvaidi to go ahead 2-0. And with 12 minutes remaining in the game, Chinese Taipei made it 3-0 with another power-play goal.
Despite the deficit, the Emirates were not about to leave the Cup in Taipei City without a fight and they cut Taipei’s lead to 3-1. Anxiety was spreading in the arena when the United Arab Emirates got their second goal with three minutes remaining and shortly after a two-minute power play. Despite the man advantage and pulling the goalie in the end, the Emirates were not able to get shots on goal and Chinese Taipei claimed the title while the United Arab Emirates had to settle with silver.
Thailand won the bronze medals. After a 6-1 victory over Malaysia in the preliminary round, the Thais defeated the same opponent in the bronze medal game again, 5-2.
For two teams, the international season is not over yet. The United Arab Emirates will participate in the World Championship Division III for the first time in Group A in Luxembourg. Their opponents in the April 14-17 event will be Luxembourg, Greece and Ireland.
Mongolia plays in Division III Group B in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. Apart from Armenia and Mongolia, also DPR Korea and South Africa take part in the tourney from April 15-18.
For the first time a Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia will be held this year in Shanghai, China, April 10-14, with two Chinese squads, DPR Korea and Japan.
Click here for scores, recaps and photos from all games of the Challenge Cup of Asia in Chinese Taipei.
Click here for the schedule of the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia.
MARTIN MERK, JUKKA TIIKKAJA