JOHOR BARU: After two painstaking years – and 145 players later – the Project 2013 squad is almost complete.
And today, Malaysians can catch a glimpse of their talent and potential when they face Australia in the opening match of the Sultan of Johor Cup.
These two teams met four times when Malaysia went on a Tour Down Under in June. The Aussies won three matches and the other was drawn.
But don’t tell that to coach K. Dharmaraj, who clearly feels that his team are up to the challenge, including meeting the target of a top-two finish.
“We are taking it one match at a time. If we beat the teams here, it will show that we have progressed,” he said.
“Let’s not talk about the top-two finish as we are preparing for the Junior Asia Cup, which will serve as the qualifier for the 2013 Junior World Cup.
“We have to beat the likes of India, Pakistan and South Korea here so that we will have the psychological advantage at the Asian qualifiers, which will be held in Malacca next May.
“So let’s start by beating Australia first.”
Dharmaraj has handled the team since they won the SEA Cup in 2009 and has had to sieve through 145 players, before arriving at his final 28.
“The core players from the 2009 squad are Mohd Noor Faeez, Amir Farid, Fitri Saari and Izzat Sumantri. Faisal only joined us a year later,” he said.
“From the 18 players we have named for this tournament, 14 will still be eligible to play in the 2013 Junior World Cup. The four exceptions being Amir, Mohd Ramadhan, Izzat and Faeez.”
For today’s match, Dharmaraj is likely to opt for Hazrul Faiz in goal, with Faiz Helmi as the sweeper.
The defence is likely to comprise skipper Mohd Noor Faeez, Kavin Karthik and Izat Hakimi.
Fitri Saari is likely to get the nod to join Mohd Azri and Izzat in midfield.
Amir, Syamim Yusof and Mohd Ramadhan should start upfront.
“We need the fans to be behind us. I hope hockey fans here will be rally behind the team throughout the tournament and cheer us on,” said Dharmaraj.