ROBYN EDIE/Southland Times: PRACTICE RUN: Malaysian hockey star Jiwa Mohan makes a run during a training session at Turnbull Thomson Park in Invercargill yesterday.
By BRENDON EGAN - The Southland Times
Malaysia's national hockey team was enjoying the unusual feeling of anonymity at Turnbull Thomson Park in Invercargill yesterday.
Back home in Malaysia, the sport is a big deal. Hockey is the No 1 team game and is well financed, with players revered like rock stars.
Later this week, several newspaper journalists and television film crews will arrive from Malaysia to keep passionate fans in the Southeast Asian country updated.
In recent times, Malaysia have failed to live up to the hype on the hockey pitch. They missed out on qualification for the previous two Olympic Games, as well as the World Cup in Germany in 2006.
Experienced Malaysian campaigner Jiwa Mohan, who has amassed 261 caps for his country, said his side was determined to seal a place in next year's World Cup in India, by winning the winner-takes-all World Cup qualifiers tournament in Invercargill.
"We really need to qualify," Mohan told The Southland Times yesterday. "We have failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics and the Germany World Cup. The support comes with success. That's the same everywhere in the world."
Malaysia warmed up for the World Cup qualifiers tournament – which begins on Saturday – with a five-game series against Australia in Kuala Lumpur last month. The Malaysians lost the series 3-nil with two matches drawn, but Mohan said not to read too much into those results.
"The five-test series against Australia was basically selection for our team. We had 25 players and we had to reduce it to 18 players ...
"I think we have a very good chance. We've planned our strategy and we're hoping to execute it."
Malaysia's biggest challenger at the World Cup qualifiers tournament will be the New Zealand Black Sticks, who are ranked eighth in the world – eight spots higher than 16th-ranked Malaysia.
The two sides will know each other well after having played in a five match series earlier this year, which New Zealand won 3-nil. Malaysia left several talented players at home for that series, though, so will be an entirely different proposition.
Mohan, who resides in Perth, Australia, where he works as a mechanical engineer, said his side was respectful of the Black Sticks, but said it would not be overawed by them.
He believed Malaysia had the right mix in their squad for the Invercargill tournament.
"We've got a combination of youth, who played in the recent Junior World Cup, and a few experienced players ... Our biggest strength is our fighting spirit and our unity. We have good skills as well. Basically, everything's good," the likeable Mohan said, laughing.