MALAYSIA picked the toughest route in the Champions Challenge 1 when they were paired with New Zealand in the quarter-finals in Kuantan today.
The Kiwis, who have also qualified for the World Cup at the Hague, are the highest ranked team here at number six in the world, while Malaysia are at a struggling 13th. The other team which has qualified for the World Cup and are in Kuantan are South Korea at world number seven.
And if Malaysia believe that playing at 2.45pm in sweltering Kuantan heat, and dry sea breeze, is going to help their cause they might be proven wrong as the Kiwis have played two earlier matches at 3pm and beat Ireland 2-1 and hammered Japan 6-1.
The Kiwis also have an advantage of having played four quarters of 17.5 minutes when playing at 3pm, while Malaysia who played at 9pm all their matches used the 35 minutes two halves format.
"We will be playing the four quarters format for the first time in Kuantan, but we did experiment with it when we played China in a series of friendlies before coming here," said Malaysian coach K. Dharmaraj.
Dharmaraj agreed that they pulled the short straw and it will be an uphill battle but not an impossible one.
"Every team in Group B played to avoid the Kiwis, but two bad matches saw us end up with the world no six. However, they are not Australia, Netherlands and Germany who are out of our league.
"With the right strategy and frame of mind of my players, we have an equal chance of beating them and then the route would become much more comfortable in the semis," said Dharmaraj.
Losing to France 3-2 and South Korea 3-1 was somehow made up with the splendid display in the 4-3 win against Canada.
"There was overall improvement against Canada and we were just plain unlucky as a penalty corner attempt hit the post, and also missed many sitters.
"But there is improvement in the team, and that's what matters most leading into the New Zealand encounter," said Dharmaraj.
Skipper Azlan Misron was also optimistic: "We have played New Zealand many times and know that they are a strong and hard working side, but I will rally my men to collect three points as we want to advance further and get a shot at playing in the Champions Trophy," said Azlan.
New Zealand coach Colin Batch said: " We will be playing for the third time in the heat (3pm match) and if the previous encounters are anything to go by, it does not affect our performance much. However, Malaysia are in an upward trend as seen in the match against Canada and I believe it will be a tough quarters encounter for us.
"Malaysia are also a World Cup side, even though in a different group with us, it would be an interesting match as both sides prepare for the Hague."
As for Kiwi skipper Dean Couzins: "I watched Malaysia play against Canada for 25 minutes as after that we had to warm-down and do some conditioning. And I must say they have improved as compared to their last two matches and it will be a fast match where we hope to press early and get the goals.
"I love the way the crowd cheers every time when Malaysia move up to attack, but it also works for us as well, as we like the atmosphere and makes us enjoy the game."