COACH K. Dharmaraj will be taking a big risk by fielding two defenders who will be paired for the first time in the pinnacle of hockey at the Hague, Netherlands beginning May 31.
German-born Kevin Lim and Razie Rahim's combination will be tested for the first time together, and that too in the World Cup. Kevin earned his first caps for Malaysia in the Champions Challenge 1 (CC1) in Kuantan, where Razie did not play because of injury.
And they will be tested against World No 1 Australia in the first day of the tournament itself, followed by another grueling test against in-form world no 5 Belgium (June 2). The other teams in Malaysia's Group A are world no 4 England (June 5), world no 8 India (June 7) and world no 10 Spain (June 9).
Reigning Olympic champions Germany, Holland New Zealand, South Korea, Argentina and South Africa are drawn in Group B.
Experienced defender Baljit Singh, who was Razie's right-hand-man in many previous tournaments, as well as the World League Qualifier where Malaysia won the ticket to the Haque -- was left out in the cold.
Malaysia last played in the 2002 World Cup, and 12 years later the only player left standing from that eara is goalkeeper Roslan Jamaluddin while the rest will make their debut.
Dharmaraj made five changes from the bronze winning side in the Champions Challenge, and former skipper Shahrun Nabil made an entry after being sidelined in two major tournaments this year -- the CC1 and the Azlan Shah Cup where Malaysia won silver.
The other two players named for the World Cup are midfielder Ramadan Rosli and forward Hafifi Hafiz Hanafi.
The five players dropped from the Champions Challenge 1 squad are goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman, defenders Izad Hakimi Jamaluddin and Ahmad Kazamirul; midfielder Azri Hassan and forward Rashid Baharom.
Dharmaraj said that he named team based on current form and experience and it is the best team to put up a strong challenge in the World Cup.
“The players are in high spirit and they have vowed to give their best in the World Cup,” said Dharmaraj.
“The return of Razie, will definitely beef up our defense as he is the best defender in the country. We are also banking on him to deliver goals from his penalty corner drag flicks.
“I have included Roslan, Shahrun and Hafifi as they are experience players, who have shown their ability in training,” said Dharmaraj.
“Our rankings improved by one rung to 12 in the world after we won the bronze in the Champions Challenge 1. And we will be going to the World Cup after a lapse of 12 years to further improve our world rankings,” said Dharmaraj, who took over as the national chief coach from South Africa’s Paul Revington in January.
“The MHC (Malaysian Hockey Confederation) have a set a target for the national team to finish top 10 in the World Cup but we should strive to do much better to further improve our rankings,” said Dharmaraj.
World Cup squad:
Goalkeepers: S. Kumar, Roslan Jamaluddin.
Defenders: Azlan Misron (captain), Razie Rahim, Kevin Lim, Faiz Helmi, Sukri Mutalib.
Midfielders: Fitri Saari, Marhan Jalil, Shahrun Nabil, Ramadan Rosli, Nabil Fiqri Noor.
Forwards: Ismail Abu, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Faizal Saari, Firhan Ashaari, Hafifi Hafiz Hanafi, Shahril Saabah.
Team manager: George Koshy
Stand in manager: Nor Azlan Bakar
Chief coach: K. Dharmaraj
Assistant coach: K. Gobinathan
Team doctor: Razana Abdul Raffar
Physiotherapist: Yeo In-seung