Though Malaysia are the favourites to go through to the second stage of the World League, they are not taking things for granted in the tournament that gets underway in Kuantan tomorrow (Friday).
Four teams – Singapore, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and hosts Malaysia will battle it out over the next three days to a spot in the second round.
The league will see participation from around the globe and will be held over four rounds with the current qualification norms for the Olympics ceasing to exist and providing an opportunity for every FIH member country to compete for an Olympic berth.
“It may look easy but be rest assured that we are taking nothing for granted. Every match is akin to a final and each goal counts hence threre is no room for mistakes or complacency,” said Malaysian coach Mohd Nasihin Nubli Ibrahim.
“I will field my best team for every match and this is no place for exposure as a place in the second round is at stake. And the format, a one round league, does not allow us the luxury of a second bite of the cake.”
The Malaysian team had their first feel of the blue turf upon their arrival in Kuantan on Tuesday. And after the three training sessions, Nasihin feels that his players have already gotten used to the change of colour, both in terms of the pitch and ball.
“It was initially a strange feeling and it took the players some time to get used to it. But the pitch conditions are superb,” added Nasihin.
Malaysia will take on traditional rivals Singapore in the opening match and Nasihin feels that Singapore will not pose problems for his charges.
With sweeper Sebah Kari having retired from international duty, Nasihin said that changes will be made to their defence with skipper Nadia Abdul Rahman expected to play the sweepers role.
“Singapore have made several changes to the team and have included many young players from the Junior Asia Cup,” said Nasihin.
“Nadia will man the defence and at the same time play an attcking role, more like a libero, given a free hand to join the midfield and attack.
“It is Kazakhstan that worry me more as not much is known about them as the last time we saw them in action was in the 2010 Asian Games where we won 4-2. From looking at their players, they have retained many from the Asian Games side and are an experienced side.”
Sri Lanka will take on Kazakhstan in the opening match which will be played at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium.
1600H: Kazakhstan v Sri Lanka
1800H: Malaysia v Singapore
(Matches at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium)