KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will be up against the big guns in the Samsung Champions Trophy hockey tournament, which begins today at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
And they certainly cannot count themselves as a contender for the title. Playing in the tournament by virtue of being hosts, they are the lowest ranked team (15th) in the eight-team tournament.
Their opponents are the top seven ranked teams Olympic champions Australia; two-time world champions Germany, European champions Holland, Asian champions South Korea, Spain, Pakistan and Britain.
For coach Sarjit Singh, the tournament will provide a gauge on how well his team have progressed in their preparations for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Japan in April.
We will get some very good quality matches and I will not be too concerned over the results. The Olympic qualifying tournament is our target. We are lucky to get to play in the Champions Trophy. I want the players to stay focused on our objectives and not get carried away if they achieve good results here, he said yesterday.
The Olympic qualifiers in Japan only offer one ticket to Beijing and Malaysia have among their rivals Germany and Japan.
In the run-up to the Champions Trophy, Malaysia played three friendly matches. Against China, they won one (5-3) and drew the other (3-3). In the third match against Canada, Malaysia won 2-1.
The team scored a total of 10 goals but conceded seven and Sarjit showed concern over the lapses in defence.
There is a tendency for the team to make silly mistakes in defence. These are only friendly matches and we let in seven. In competitive matches against top teams, every mistake will be punished. The players need to understand this and work on cutting down errors in defence, he said.
Sarjit tried out all 20 players in the three friendly matches and his probable first 11 for the Champions Trophy should have S. Kumar in goal; Megat Azrafiq Mohamed, Madzli Ikmar, Jiwa and Engku Abdul Malek in defence; Mohamed Shukri Mutalib, Jivan Mohan and Mohamed Shahrun Nabil in midfield; and Azlan Misron, Chua Boon Huat, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin and Ismail Abu in the frontline.
Malaysia open their campaign against Australia today. The Australians will start as favourites to win the title with Germany and Holland expected to challenge strongly as well.
The three teams hold the record of having won the Champions Trophy eight times each.