Mekong Cup reaches the quarter-century mark

By Shamez ‘Mez’ Lalji

The 25th anniversary addition of the Mekong Cup was held in Bangkok on February 15th & 16th. Asia’s longest-running ball hockey tournament lived up to its hype continuing the long-standing tradition of competitive play, comradery and celebration coupled with the gala dinner and awards banquet.

Seven teams participated from Hong Kong, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Singapore, Chiang Mai, host Bangkok (the Thai Stix) and newcomers, Jordan. Tourney play began on Friday night with teams playing either two or three games under the lights. The energy level was high as teams were excited and pumped up with many players having just arrived in the Big Mango for the big weekend.

Saturday had an early start and as the day wore on the pace returned to a more Mekong Cup-like tone, with the familiar hot sun taking its toll on the players. The tournament format was made up of round-robin play, with the top two seeds in each division receiving byes to the semi-finals, the second and third place team in each division playing each other in the quarterfinals and the last place team overall relegated to drinking beers early.

The first quarterfinal game had last year’s champion the Hong Kong Islanders vs. the new team from Jordan. The Islanders were running a shorter bench due to the tourney being so close to Chinese New Year, however, many of their veteran players had played in the World Championships and knew how to bear down and pull out big wins when needed. But to everyone’s surprise, Team Jordan were not to be taken lightly and battled their way to a surprising upset and takedown of the former champs.

The second quarterfinal match was just as entertaining with the Chiang Mai Highlanders up against the Hanoi Donkeys. This promised to be a fast and entertaining game as both teams play a very similar style of ball hockey. The game lived up to its hype going back and forth with the Donkeys upsetting the boys from Chiang Mai with mere seconds remaining on the clock. Chiang Mai did not even have enough time to get another shot away and despair fell over Highlanders crew as they had played one of their best Mekong Cups to date, holding the fourth seed.

Next up was the semi-final, and the first match-up had the Thai Stix, who finished round-robin play atop the standings winning all six of their games, against the boys from Jordan. The Jordanian squad seemed to have spent all their energy in their quarter-final match vs. Hong Kong, and the Thai Stix were able to capitalize and set themselves up with an easy win to advance to the championship game.

The second semi-final saw the Hanoi squad face off against the Singapore Chilli Crabs, who had finished second overall following round-robin action. And again, a similar story played out as it appeared that the Hanoi side left it all on the court during their quarterfinal match-up, enabling the Chilli Crabs to gain the upper hand and head to the final vs the Thai Stix.

The final did not disappoint with the Chilli Crabs jumping out to an early lead less than a minute into the game. That rattled the Thai Stix and they let in two more goals before the end of the first half, finding themselves down 3-0 heading into the final period of the tourney. The Bangkok squad did not give up though and peppered the Singapore netminder with multiple shots in the last 15 minutes of play, but the Chilli Crab goalie stood strong, making save after save, enabling his team to capture the 25th Mekong Cup, and take the hardware back to the Lion City.

Teams that are interested in participating in future Mekong Cups, held each year in Bangkok, Thailand, usually in February should contact Yves Gaboriault – [email protected]. As the boys from Jordan did this past tourney, grab 10 bodies to play and make a holiday to Thailand out of it.