Azerbaijan have upset the FIH World Rankings by taking a first place finish at the Hockey World League Round 1 tournament in Muscat.
The team ranked 34th in the world finished top of the pile ahead of host nation Oman (FIH World Ranking: 23), Iran (unranked) and Thailand (WR: 58) to seal their place in Round 2 of the Hockey World League and keep the dream of achieving qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games very much alive.
Azerbaijan started their campaign with a 3-3 draw against hugely impressive HWL debutants Iran on Friday (5 September), with the Iranians taking an extra point from the match thanks to a 0-3 win in the shoot-out. Despite the Azerbaijanis bouncing back with a superb 2-1 win over higher-ranked Oman on Saturday (6 September), it was the Iranians who went into the final day of action at the top of the table thanks to a comprehensive 7-0 triumph against Thailand.
The first match of the day on Sunday (7 September) saw Azerbaijan storm to a 12-0 win over Thailand, a result which moved the Azerbaijanis into top spot in the league table and subsequently piled the pressure on Iran, who needed to defeat the hosts in the final match of the competition to take the title. It would have been a truly remarkable achievement for the unranked outsiders, but on this occasion they were to be denied.
Azerbaijan finished top of the table with seven points, one clear of Oman and two ahead of Iran. Thailand finished bottom of the table with zero points. Azerbaijan’s Ali Ghazanfar finished top of the scorers charts with five goals, netting four penalty corners and a field goal for his country. Ghazanfar was on target in all three matches, scoring two against both Iran and Thailand with his field goal coming against Oman. For full tournament information including results, pool standings and scorers charts, click here.
The winning teams at all of the Hockey World League Round 1 events are guaranteed a place in Round 2 of the Hockey World League, where they will be joined by a number of the highest-placed finishers from the Round 1 tournaments. Round 2 will also see the introduction of the teams placed from 12 to 19 in the FIH World Rankings with the sides ranked 1 to 11 starting their journey in Round 3, where tickets for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as well as qualification for the Finals tournament are up for grabs.
Source and Photograph: FIH.ch