MALAYSIA will have world champions Australia for company in the World League Semi-finals in Antwerp, Belgium, from June 20 to July 5.
But all is not gloom as Malaysia enter the final hurdle to qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, as finishing fifth might just do the trick.
The other teams in Belgium are the hosts, Great Britain, India, Pakistan, Ireland, France, Poland and China.
The World League semi-finals offers three tickets from each of the two tournaments, but there are bound to be double qualifiers and fifth is worth its weight in gold.
India have already qualified for the Olympics as Asian Games champions, while Australia are the favourites to qualify via the Oceania qualifier while Belgium and Great Britain have the European qualifier to play yet.
"It looks like we have a good chance to qualify for the Olympics, as the semi-finalist are surely assured, while finishing fifth might open another door to Brazil," said Malaysian team manager Datuk Nur Azmi Ahmad.
Malaysia faced the same script when Johor Baru hosted the World League Semi-finals which was a World Cup qualifier then. The hosts finished fifth, and went on the play in the Netherlands World Cup -- where they finished last without winning a single point.
"We have started early preparations, and the Azlan Shah Cup (April 5-12) will give us a better platform to gauge our strength as Australia will also be in Ipoh. We will also get a chance to spar with India in Ipoh, and they will also be another team to beat in Belgium if we want to play in the semi-finals," said Nur Azmi.
The other WL Semi-finals will be held in Buenos Aires on June 3-14, and World Cup bronze medallists Argentina will be up against Olympic champions Germany, World Cup Silver medallists the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Japan, Canada, Egypt and Austria.
"The Argentina WL Semis looks to have a stronger selection, but then, if we want to play in the Olympics again, we must not fear any team in the world," said Nur Azmi.
For the record, Malaysia last played in the Stdney 2000 Olympics and finished 11th by beating Poland 3-2 with an extra time winner scored by S. Kuhan in the 73rd minute. The other two goals were scored by Mirnawan Nawawi and Nor Saiful Zaini.