MALAYSIA will be banking on penalty corner ace Shahril Saabah to get off on a flying start when they host Britain in the curtain raiser of the Sultan of Johor Cup today.
The other world class teams in the SOJC are India, Australia, Argentina and Pakistan. All matches will be played at the Taman Daya Stadium in Johor Baru, and the entrance is free.
Shahril made his mark while playing for Bandar Penawar Sports School in the Junior Hockey League, and is now fast becoming among the best penalty corner executioner in the country.
Malaysia played a friendly with Britain on Friday and lost 3-2: "We were trying out several tactical moves in the practice match and were really not at our best.
"We are looking at a winning start and from my personal perspective, it’ll be nice to be on the scoring sheet against Britain, but more importantly its the three points that matter.”
Shahril was a member of the 2013 Junior World Cup squad that finished fourth in New Delhi, and his experience will be invaluable in the SOJC.
Malaysia, coached by Arul Selvaraj, will be hoping for a creditable performance ahead of the Junior Asia Cup that will be held in Kuantan next month.
Having had seven months of training together, the team, although short on international exposure will be counting on grit and determination to see them through to achieve their target of a podium finish.
Last year it was a miserable fifth: "I'm looking for a positive attitude and consistency in matches from my players throughout the week.” said Arul who was also the coach of the team that finished fifth last year.
“We will be trying out things that we have learned in training in order to gauge the ability of the players to perform at higher levels.”
“I expect the players to give their best as this tournament will also serve as a selection process for the final squad of the Junior Asia Cup.”
Britain’s manager Paul Gannon is looking forward to playing the hosts today.
"It’s an exciting opportunity for us to play against the host team as they have home ground advantage.
“But we won’t worry too much about Malaysia, we will focus on our own strengths and hopefully play well enough to win and kickstart a positive tournament run for,” said Gannon.
Defending champions India beat Britain 2-1 in the final last year, with the winning goal coming in the final minute via Hermanpreet Singh.
They were also the champions in 2013 and will be looking to make a hat-trick of titles this year.
“It will be nice to win (their third title) but we’re not going to put pressure on ourselves as the five other teams are also capable of winning the title this year,” said India coach Harendra Singh.
India will start against Pakistan today.
FIXTURES: Sunday -- Argentina v Australia (4.35pm), India v Pakistan (6.3pm), Malaysia v Britain (8.35pm).
Oct 12: Australia v Pakistan (4.35pm), Britain v India (6.3pm), Malaysia v Argentina (8.35pm).
Oct 13: REST DAY.
Oct 14: Britain v Pakistan (4.35pm), Argentina v India (6.3pm), Malaysia v Australia (8.35pm).
Oct 15: Pakistan v Argentina (4.35pm), Britain v Australia (6.3pm), Malaysia v India (8.35pm).
Oct 16: REST DAY
Oct 17: Argentina v Britain (4.35pm), Australia v India (6.3pm), Malaysia v Pakistan (8.35pm).
Oct 18: Final and placing matches