By Ajitpal Singh
Junior World Cup Groupings
Group A — Argentina, Belgium, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia;
Group B — Australia, Chile, Germany, Japan, South Africa;
Group C — England, South Korea, Malaysia, Spain, USA;
Group D — India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore.
THE parent body had said nothing yet but the team have set themselves a target - to qualify for the second stage of the Junior World Cup, co hosted by Johor Baru and Singapore, on June 7-21.
And that’s not an easy task if you consider that Malaysia have England, South Korea, Spain and the United States for company in Group C.
Only the top two from each group will advance to the quarter-finals.
Critics are downplaying Malaysia’s chances in making a grade at the tournament and coach K.Rajan also admits it will be tough.
“The team’s target is the second stage and my charges’ are gearing towards achieving it,” said Rajan yesterday.
“Of course, England, South Korea and Spain are the leading teams in the group. The three teams are good but not invincible and my boys’ can beat them, if they play their hearts out.”
“As for this stage, my charges have shown tremendous improvement as compared previously but they need to be tuned up further. They will need another 20 matches or so to get their momentum on the right track.”
England and Spain are ranked third and fourth in Europe. The Spaniards proved their mettle when they won the European Junior Cup while South Korea, finished second in the Asia Junior Cup. Both tournaments were held last year.
For the record, Malaysia’s best showing in the Junior World Cup was fourth placing in the 1979 and 1982 editions.
In the last edition in Rotterdam, the national juniors finished 10th out of 16 teams.
The Malaysian juniors, who finished fourth in the recent Australian Youth Olympics Festival in Sydney, will undergo a one-month mental and army style training camp in Sungai Besi and Lumut starting Feb 1.
There are currently 26 players in the training squad and it will be trimmed down to the final 18 in May.
The Taman Daya Stadium in Johor Baru will also be the venue for Group A, consisting defending champions Ar gentina, Belgium, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia and also the junior world cup final.
The main pitch in Taman Daya has been approved by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) for the event while the second turf is scheduled to be completed in about two months.