KUANTAN: Malaysia will be under no pressure when they compete in the fourth edition of the Asian Champions Trophy, which starts at the Kuantan Hockey Stadium on Thursday.
With home ground advantage, the hosts should be looking for a podium finish.
The other teams taking part in the six-team round-robin tournament are Pakistan, India, China, Japan and South Korea.
But, with most of the other teams bringing young players in a bid to give them exposure ahead of the Junior World Cup in December, it’s only right that coach Stephen van Huizen’s men should aim for a top-two finish after coming out third on all three previous occasions.
“For me, it is important that the players show improvement in their game and greater consistency. We’ve had some injuries, but I don’t think that will affect us greatly,” said Stephen.
“We have a long-term target and that is to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“The players have to get the winning mentality and also ensure that mistakes are kept to a minimum.”
Stephen took over as the national coach in October last year and has only handled the team for three outings – the tour of Japan last year, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in May and the recent Australian Hockey League in Perth.
So, he’ll be using the Asian Champions Trophy hoping to learn more about his players and decide who will be the ones who can carry the challenges next year.
The inclusions of Mohd Razie Rahim, Nabil Fiqri Mohd Noor and Faizal Saari should give him greater options and firepower.
Malaysia will open their campaign today against Pakistan.
Malaysia have always found it hard to beat Pakistan, although they did manage a slim 1-0 win in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in May.
Pakistan won the tournament twice – 2012 and 2013. They were also in the final of the inaugural tournament in 2011, but lost to India.
Naturally coach K.M. Junaid wants his Pakistani team to win it a third time.
In fact, he wants to use the Asian Champions Trophy to jump-start their revival in world hockey.
But don’t expect the other teams – India, South Korea, Japan and even China – to take it easy.
With FIH continental points at stake, all six countries will have added incentives to do well.
India, the only Asian team at the Rio Olympics in August, will also want re-establish their credentials as the top dogs in Asia.
South Korea have been giving the Asian Champions Trophy scant respect by fielding mostly junior players.
But all that could change as the Koreans, fifth in 2011 but skipped the last two editions, will be led by world-renowned coach Paul Lissek.