South Korea's Jang Jong-hyun (third from left) celebrates after scoring a goal against Malaysia in the Champions Challenge I group match. South Korea won 3-1. They are one of the favourites to win the tournament. – Bernama Photo
KUANTAN: South Korea, Canada and Ireland are favourites at their respective Champions Challenge I quarter-final matches at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium here.
The South Koreans, ranked seventh in the world, are tipped to be the finalists along with New Zealand.
The Irish are ranked 15th while the Canadians are one rung below them.
In the quarter-finals, the South Koreans play their East Asia neighbours Japan while Ireland will play France. and Canada are up against Poland.
South Korean team consultant Paul Lissek said on Wednesday that they have come prepared not just to make it through the group phase but to go all the way.
“Our preparations for any tournament are always complete and we plan to go to the final.
“This has been an interesting tournament so far and there is more than one potential winner here.
“Japan are a good side and they improve with each meet. I think any team taking them for granted will pay a big price.
“We have played them many times and it does not get any easier. For example, in the FIH World Hockey League semi-final in Johor Baru last year, we were leading and they fought back to draw 3-3 with us. They are fighters right down to the last man,” he said.
Lissek and team manager Ki Yoo-moon lamented the timing of the early matches because of the heat and humidity.
“There are two pitches here in Kuantan of equal standard. Why not use both of them and play later when the temperature is a little lower.
“This is not good - playing matches at 5pm when the conditions are so hot. I believe that the teams will be affected by it,” said Lissek.
Canada, on the strength of their match against Malaysia on Tuesday, are confident that another high level performance will take them past Poland.
Coach Anthony Farry said there will be no easy match in the last eight and missing crucial chances will be costly.
“We are happy with our game thus far and the team are playing with greater understanding. We need to play better to match Poland. They lost heavily against New Zealand and that makes them a little unpredictable,” he added.
In fact, the outcome of all three of these quarter-final matches could be unpredictable should the favoured teams falter at any stage.