Women’s Asia Cup 2022: Grit, gumption and a glimpse of what is to come

In this special series, we look back at the 2022 Women’s Asia Cup, through the lenses of those in the Singapore camp, diving deeper into their lived experiences at the tournament.

In the opening story of this series, national women’s Head Coach David Viner tracks the team’s progress from preparation to finish of a tournament that revealed much about the women in the team, and also about the future of the women’s sport in Singapore.

 

It was their opening fixture of the 2022 Women’s Asia Cup (21-28 January, 2022), and Singapore Women’s team head coach David Viner could not say for sure which version of his charges would show up as he looked upon them standing across the pitch from Japan, the defending champions of the Asian Champions Trophy.

The Singapore women had to endure less than ideal preparations in the six months leading up to the Asia Cup in the Omani capital of Muscat, and were even forced to leave behind one player from the 18-strong squad, after she tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.

But when the final whistle was blown, he could not prevent the little smile that creeped onto his face. And Viner’s smile was well-founded — the women finished seventh of eight teams competing at Asia’s top table – their best performance at this level – and climbed up one spot to seventh in the Asian women’s hockey rankings.

“To play so well together against Japan for all four quarters after the Japanese started the match looking like they wanted a big score to start their tournament off was very satisfying,” said Viner, of the 6-0 defeat.

The Singapore women went into half-time of the match trailing 2-0, before conceding two goals in each of the final two quarters.

“I knew then, that our team could put aside all the many distractions over at least the last six months prior to us departing and just go out there and enjoy playing good hockey again.”

Viner pointed to injuries to five key players between October and December last year, and this over and above the usual struggles individual players face, from examinations, to work commitments and perhaps the facet that hamstrung his team the most — the Covid-19 safety measures that prevented the team from playing practice matches to hone team tactics and develop understanding within the squad.

“But they all turned up to train and play when it mattered, and I must say I’m not surprised by our performances at the tournament, and very pleased with our cohesive and committed efforts,” said Viner.

Photo Credit (Instagram – al_dhekra)

The Singapore women did well to only lose to Southeast Asian giants Malaysia 2-0, then fell 1-0 to regional rivals Thailand, before beating Indonesia 2-1 to end the tournament in seventh, but they also endured a 9-1 loss to India in yet another high-scoring pool match.

That defeat to India, giants of women’s hockey, may have been Singapore’s biggest defeat of the tourney, but it provided Viner with his favourite — albeit off-beat, yet still pertinent — memory of his time in Muscat.

“It probably has to be the team scoring a goal — through Toh Li Min — against India. The elation and the celebration of everyone in the team was something special, although Gene (Leck) could’ve jumped a little less excitedly and avoided bumping her head against the roof of the team bench,” recalled a smiling Viner.

But their time in Muscat was no walk in the park, not by a country mile.

“We were one key defender down all tournament, so a few other players had to go into defence at times to help with rotations, and I must say that each of them played well in a less familiar role,” said Viner.

“The strikers were our least experienced group by a long way, but it was even difficult to judge their performances, as they’d never played together in any matches before we played Japan.

“So yes, I think as the tournament unfolded we improved our confidence, and so our ball movement got better. Even though India scored nine goals against us, they scored four in the first 12 minutes and from then on our players regrouped and refused to give up — we took the ball forward, forced a penalty corner and scored a goal,” added Viner.

“What more could we ask for?”

Photo Credit (Asia Hockey Federation)

In his assessment of the overall performance of his charges at the Women’s Asia Cup, Viner was torn. He was frustrated, disappointed, but also proud and confident of the future.

“It was frustrating and disappointing to not get what I felt the team deserved, but I was proud of all our senior players who remained positive and led by example both on and off the pitch,” he said.

“I’m also satisfied that we’ve got young players who showed glimpses of what we can expect from them over the next few years as they get more experience. I’m confident that the talent is here in Singapore, and if they can continue to commit to the sport, rewards will surely come their way,” added Viner, who looked optimistically past the dark clouds of the pandemic.

“I call on all young players who have had little to no hockey in these last two years, don’t give up on your dream. Get in touch with us to find out what you can do to train in the national program,” he said.

“Singapore has a good hockey team, and we have several talented young players, we just need to play more hockey together.”