PIC: K. Dharmaraj
MALAYSIA should cruise into the semi-finals of the Junior Asia Cup in Malacca on May 3-13, judging from the groupings released by the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF).
The hosts are in Group A with South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and Iran while in Group B are India, Pakistan, China and Bangladesh.
And Project 2013 coach K. Dharmaraj said his charges should have no problem playing in the semi-finals.
“We only have to beat Japan, Sri Lanka and Iran and should be in the semi-finals with a match to spare against South Korea,” said Dharmaraj who has set his mind on winning the gold medal in Malacca.
Defending champions India have qualified as hosts of the Junior World Cup next year, and they have traditional rivals Pakistan for company.
The AHF have yet to get the green light from the In ternational Hockey Federation (FIH) on how many teams from the Junior Asia Cup will be given berths in the World Cup.
“I will be in Barcelona this weekend to attend an FIH meeting and should get a confirmation from the parent body on how many teams from the Asia Cup will make a direct entry into the World Cup.
“And because India are automatic qualifiers, AHF will propose to the FIH to give our tournament three tickets to the World Cup,” said AHF secretary general Tan Sri P. Ala gendra.
Dharmaraj’s boys will play a series of matches against Pakistan and South Korea starting from April 5, and their last tune-up will be against an Australian club side.
“There is no use in targeting anything lower than the gold medal as we must make the World Cup at all cost. The Korean and Pakistan teams will be down for friendlies and I will use all 35 players I have with me in training to give every player a chance to prove himself before naming the final squad,” said Dharmaraj.
The Junior Asia Cup was supposed to be a 10-team tournament but Thailand withdrew due to domestic rea sons.
For the record, Malaysia have never won the Junior Asia Cup since its inception in Karachi in 1987, with their best being runner in 1992 in Ipoh.
The opening ceremony will be a spectacle to watch on May 2, as plans are afoot for the teams to sail along the Malacca River, past the VIP stands.