By Ajitpal Singh
MALAYSIA are in big trouble even before the first whistle of the Junior World Cup, as they have been placed in an European group-of-death, going by the groupings released by the International Hockey Federation (FIH).
Germany, Belgium, Poland and Spain are in Malaysia’s group, while co-hosts Singapore have kinder bed-mates for the World Cup, which will be held on June 7-21.
Singapore have Egypt, Japan, Australia and New Zealand for company. There are four groups of five teams each, with the top-two teams advancing to the quarter-finals.
The Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) received the Groupings for the 20-team tournament a few days back, but have yet to release it to the Press, because it was learnt that they are unhappy with Malaysia’s opponents.
But Malaysia and Singapore’s groupings were obtained from an international source, as the FIH had sent it to other competing countries as well.
Two more groups could not be obtained but they will be made up of Argentina, Chile, England, India, South Korea, Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa and the United States.
A hockey observer, when told about Malaysia’s group, said it is akin to climbing up Mount Everest without Sherpa guides.
“All I can say is that good luck to the MHF, and coaches, as we all know that playing European teams is never easy. And I am also surprised on how four of them ended up with Malaysia. The boys have Mount Everest to climb, just to qualify for the knock-out stage,” said the source.
While Singapore is expected to greet the grouping with a smile, Malaysia are expected to bring up the matter with the FIH, as the hosts feel they have received an unkind cut.
But, it is unlikely that the FIH will budge from their stand, as they have their own formula on grouping teams for tournaments.
For the record, Malaysia ended 10th the the last Junior World Cup in 2004.
The Malaysian juniors left for Sydney last night, with coach K. Rajan leading a cast of 26 trainees who will play a series of friendlies as well as compete in the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney on Jan 14-18.
The juniors will play against Australia, Great Britain and India in the quadrangular.