THE National hockey team will start the year with five friendlies against a visiting China side to prepare for the March Olympic Qualifiers in Dublin.
Starting from Wednesday, the China series will be closely watched, after the team played to a dismal fifth in the Champions Challenge I in South Africa.
Project 2013, who lifted the inaugural Sultan of Johor Cup by beating Australia in the final, will also play one match against China.
“China, who are also preparing for the Olympic Qualifiers, should bring down their best players and it will be a good opportunity or our team to prepare for Dublin,” said team manager George Koshy.
The series were arranged after the Azlan Shah Cup, scheduled for February in Ipoh, was moved to the middle of the year after many teams turned down invitations due to a hectic Olympic year.
However, the team management is still uncertain if China would want 18 or 20 players fielded for the series.
“Since it is a friendly, we would discuss with the China coach whether to field 18 or 20 players per-match.
“And also, seven of our players would be involved with their University examinations during the period, and this could see some of them being not available for certain matches,” said Koshy.
And after the five matches, which end on Jan 18, the national team will travel to Perth and play against world No 1 Australia and the Netherlands.
“We managed to get four matches against Australia starting from Jan 29, and two more matches against the Nether lands in Perth.
“This is a golden opportunity to play against top-flight teams and further strengthen our Qualifier hopes,” said Koshy.
In the Dublin Olympic Qualifiers on March 10-18, Malaysia will play three relatively easy matches against Chile, followed by Russia and Ukraine and maximum points and goals will be the order of the day.
After that, the climb becomes steeper with matches against South Korea and finally hosts Ireland, and they need to win at least one match to play in the final of the Qualifier.
The Qualifier only offers one ticket to the London Olympics and China will be playing in the Japan Qualifiers in April.