Muscat — Khalid Al Shaaibi saluted to the crowd after netting one of Oman’s production line of forehand shots at the well-worked Malaysian goalkeeper. “It was for my brother, who came to support us,” said Al Shaabi. “We said thank you for everything.”
Oman opened their first World Cup appearance with a spirited 3-3 draw against Malaysia as they try to make the quarter-finals and raise the profile of the game.
“I love hockey and I’m crazy for it,” added Al Shaaibi, who debuted for Oman in the outdoor game in 2012. “But we need the kids for the future of our game and the World Cup can help.”
A few days prior, Oman women took part in their first big competition, 5s giving developing nations the chance to compete.
Their captain, Olaa Al Balushi, who works in the sales department at Ikea in Muscat, knew little of some of their rivals, which included a 21-1 defeat against the victorious Dutch side.
“It was very hard for us. But we learn as it’s the first time we play in a World Cup and to play against such famous people,” she said.
“The first time we played was with Hockey5s, we didn’t play 11 or anything and for two years we have learned the game.”
Al Balushi says she learned of some of the Dutch players from their Instagram accounts.
And after experiencing this World Cup, she also hopes that Omanis can start younger in their teens, rather than the mid-twenties’ collective in the current women’s set up.
“We need to continue the sport. After the World Cup we don’t have 5s, perhaps we will go to 11-a-side,” she said.
Well-travelled Dutchman Siegfried Aikman, the Omani men’s coach, started his contract in July and has been preparing his side for five weeks.
“As long as they are ambitious and willing to grow, these players want to give their all to improve,” he said.
“They had a dream to play a World Cup and in big tournaments. Now, they see that opportunities can come if they are disciplined and work hard. Step by step we get there.
Oman complete a remarkable second-half comeback against Malaysia to tie their opening game of the FIH #Hockey5s World Cup 3-3 in front of their cheering fans.
— International Hockey Federation (@FIH_Hockey) January 28, 2024
“We are far away as the structure needs work and we have to build from bottom up, but that doesn’t mean we don’t put in all our efforts and slowly we raise levels in Oman hockey.
Oman has had several high-quality coaches in the last five to 10 years, which has helped the nation with what is expected at elite level.
“Bridging the gap is one of my qualities but they aren’t used to structure at high level but we want to do it more consistently.”