As the highest-ranked side in the World Hockey League Round Two tournament, Malaysia should win it hands down, right?
Well, not when it comes to the national hockey team.
Still, there is no reason why world No. 13 Malaysia should not come up tops in the tournament as they open their Group A campaign against hosts and world No. 32 Bangladesh at the Maulana Bisra Hockey Stadium in Dhaka today.
The other teams in Malaysia’s group are Oman (world No. 31) and Fiji (No. 44).
Group B comprises China (No. 18), Egypt (No. 20), Ghana (No. 38) and Sri Lanka (No. 41).
The top two teams will qualify for the World League Semi-Finals, which will be held at two venues – London (June 15-25) and Johannesburg, South Africa from July 9-23.
It is the qualifying tournament for the 2018 World Cup in New Delhi, India.
The only worry for Malaysia is that they will be without four key players in Dhaka.
They are goalkeeper S. Kumar (wife is expecting); midfielder Muhd Haziq Samsul (hamstring injury) and forwards Muhd Firhan Ashaari (getting married on March 11) and Faizal Saari (hamstring injury).
Another defender, Faiz Helmi Jali, will miss the first two matches against Bangladesh today and Oman tomorrow as he is getting married today.
Faiz will only play in the third match against Fiji on Tuesday.
But National coach Stephen van Huizen has told his men that they have nothing to fear despite playing in the tournament without some of their better players.
“Our target here is to play in the final to seal a place in the World League Semi-Finals ... and also to win the tournament,” said Stephen.
Veteran forward Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin tried to play down expectations by saying that “we may have a slow start against Bangladesh because this is the first time we will be playing together since the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) ended last week”.
“We are confident of a winning start, though,” he added.
Copyright: The Star Online/Asia News Network