Despite being pitted against some of the best countries at the Sultan Johor Cup, the Malaysian squad is confident that they have the ability to match their opponents in the tournament that gets underway at the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium this Saturday.
Known as the Project 2013 squad, the Malaysian Juniors have undergone a systematic progression under the tutelage of coach K. Dharmaraj who is assisted by K. Gobinathan and Nor Azlan Bakar, all ex-internationals.
The youngsters have benefited from several playing tours and this year alone they have been to Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany and Spain. In addition some of the players were in the team that played in the 4 Nation Invitational Tournament in Russia in June while those who were Under 18 played and won the AHF Under 18 Tournament in Singapore.
Then there are several players, in the likes of Faiz Helmi and Amir Farid who have had the experience of donning the national seniors colours this year as well. Thus the Malaysian squad will not be short in experience.
But two of the most dynamic players of the squad will not see action in Johor as Faisal Saari and Firhan Ashaari have been denied a release by national coach Tai Beng Hai who has opted to keep then in the training camp for the Champions Challenge Tournament that will be held in South Africa later this month.
"We have a good blend of players but we will surely miss the services of Faisal and Firhan as they are the key players who can make the difference for the outcome of a match,' conceded coach Dharmaraj.
"The tournament will no doubt serve as a good preparation for the Junior Asia Cup that will be held in Malacca next May as it serves as the qualifier for the 2013 Junior World Cup.
"Preparations have been smooth so far and all the players are free from injuries. The underwent a motivational camp in Malacca just before Deepavali."
Dharma said that Malaysia has lined up two friendly matches, against Australia (November 2) and New Zealand (November 3) at Taman Daya and that the final list of 18 players will be nameda fter the match against New Zealand.
On the target sent by the MHF, to finish amongst the top 2 for the tournament, Dharma admitted that it was a tall order given the fact that his best team will not be playing in the tournament.
"We have to understand that the opponents are no pushovers and have done well at junior level. So it is important to take it one match at a time," said Dharma.