PETALING JAYA: National coach A. Arulselvaraj has always treated seriously any tournament that the Speedy Tigers compete in but he will be mindful not to increase their injury woes when the Nations Cup begins in Potchefstroom, South Africa, today.
The Nations Cup was initiated by world governing body FIH to give the eight countries outside the top nine who are unable to play in the Pro League the chance to get match exposure before the World Cup in Rourkela/Bhubaneswar, India from Jan 13-29.
The additional perk is that the champions will play in next year’s Pro League against the big guns but it would also provide the risk of more players suffering injuries before the World Cup.
Defenders Marhan Jalil and Syafiq Hassan, strikers Shahril Saabah and Muhajir Abdu Rauf as well as reserve goalkeeper Zaimi Mat Derus are all injured and are racing against time to get fit for the World Cup.
With this in mind, the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) have given the newly crowned Sultan Azlan Shah Cup champions a semi-final target in South Africa.
“As always, we will approach every match with the winning mentality and playing South Korea in the opening match will be another test after we beat them (3-2) at the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh. They will be coming hard at us and we need to be prepared,” said Arulselvaraj.
“We had a good warm-up match against South Africa (on Friday), we played three quarters and drew 1-1 with them. The players have adapted to the high altitude and weather.
“In this tournament, I want to see drastic improvement in defence, especially marking inside the circle and passing and finishing in the crucial stages.”
It is likely to be another explosive opening match between Malaysia and South Korea, with the outcome hard to predict, as playing at 1,500m altitude will also have its effects on both teams.
Besides Malaysia and South Korea, the others in Group B are Japan and Canada.
Group A consists of France, Pakistan, Ireland and South Africa where the top two teams from both groups will advance to the semis.