THE Malaysian Men’s and Women’s Under-20 national handball team will face an uphill task in their bid to qualify for the International Handball Federation (IHF) Intercontinental Challenge Trophy as they aim to topple three-time defending champions Thailand.
Both squads will be eyeing the title at the IHF Trophy Asia – Zone 1B (East and South-East Asia) leg which starts today at the Panasonic Shah Alam National Sports Complex.
Thailand, which has been a thorn in Malaysia’s side, return as favourites with Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore entering the fray.
In the last two editions, the Men’s team finished third in 2014 behind Thailand and Singapore but emerged as runners-up in 2016 after losing 45-25 against Thailand in the final.
The Women’s squad will also face the same challenge of upsetting the formbook as they aim to topple the Thais after also finishing runners-up in the previous two editions when they suffered defeat at the hands of the Thais in both finals.
The winner in this competition will earn a spot to represent Zone 1B at the Asian leg this September.
MAHF vice-president Abang Ismail Abang Julhi is confident that their respective squads can capture their maiden titles, having gone through constant training sessions since last year.
“It is a proud moment for us to be hosts of the competition for the third time, but our aim is to try and beat Thailand to be champions this year and make it to the Intercontinental stage.
“The teams have been training hard. We have a young team, many of the players are in secondary school and universities and they come from handball clubs from almost every state.
“We are also banking on home ground advantage as well as strong support from the local crowd,” he said.
The tournament will employ a round robin format and new this year is an Under-18 category where the winners will also qualify for an Asian-level tournament.