MALAYSIA will face unknown entity Ukraine in the curtain raiser of the World League Round Two in Sinapore today, and they need to score early goals against the robust and hard-playing Russians for a good start.
Playing in Group A, coach Tai Beng Hai's world no 13 team can't afford any more slip-ups, as Ukraine are ranked 24th, Oman 22nd and Singapore 36th.
Japan, ranked 14th, are in Group B with Poland (18th), Bangladesh (30th) and Mexico (35th).
Stakes are very high for Malaysia, as the top three teams qualify for the WL Semi-finals and a shot at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The last time Malaysia played in the Olympics was in Sydney 2000.
The only inside into the Ukranian style was unveiled when they played Bangladesh in a friendly and won 2-1, but Bangladesh coach K. Gobinathan said his team should have won by 10 goals if not for the missed sitters.
And that, missing sitters, was Malaysia's bane last year.
Skipper Razie Rahim has a double task of defending penalty corners as well as scoring them to keep Malaysia afloat in the tournament. All eight teams qualify for the quarter-finals, but Malaysia need to finish tops in their Group to justufy their rankings and enter the knock-out stages on a high.
"The pitch is new and a little bumpy in certain areas, but not at the penalty corner areas and in traning, my attempts at goal have been satisfactory. Also, at the Asian Games (where he scored nine goals) I was the only flicker but here, I have Faizal Saari and the options are better," said the lanky Razie.
The forward line of Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Faizal Saari, Izwan Firdaus, Firhan Ashaari and Haziq Samsul can't afford too miss sitters, as lower rakned teams normally grow in confidence when the score remains 0-0 for a long period.
In midfield, Malaysia has one of the best in pint-sized Faiz Helmi who barely stands at 5 feet, but has not shown any fear when playing robust and teller Europeans in his 66 caps for the country. He first played in the Champions Challenge in Argentina in 2012 and is among the main-stays now.
"As always, I am ready and fearless against any team in the world. This tournament is no different as our aim is to win place in the final and qualify for the WL Semi-finals early. We will be discussing about Ukraine later tonight (yesterday) and plan for a win," said the small-built player with a big heart.
In Faiz, Malaysia has a role model on how to become champions in Singapore.