MALAYSIA, ranked 14th, will open their 26th Azlan Shah Cup campaign in Ipoh Saturday against the lowest ranked team Japan, 16th, but fans can expect an uphill battle all the way.
It will be a test of World League Round Two champions as Malaysia won gold in Dhaka, Bangladesh, while Japan were champions in Trinidad and Tobago.
The man to watch will be 28-year-old Kenta Tanaka, who top-scored in Trinidad and Tobago with nine field goals, including the equaliser against Canada in their 2-1 win in the final.
Japan coach Yamabori Takahiko is confident that his men will emerge as victors, unlike the 7-2 drubbing their received in the Asian Champions Trophy in Kuantan last year.
"After we lost to Malaysia (7-2) we dropped half the players and rebuilt this side. We did well in the World League, and are ready to win our first match tomorrow (today)," said Yamabori.
The clarion call did not worry Malaysian coach Stephen van Huizen, but what irked him was the question about Malaysia's target on home soil.
"I did not hear what the Japan coach said, but to the question about our target here, you can make your own target and write about it," said a visibly peeved van Huizen.
As an after-thought, van Huizen said: "We finished fourth last year, and would be working to finish higher."
Malaysian skipper Shukri Mutalib believes they have a 50-50 chance against Japan.
"We have played them many times before and both sides know each others' game. We need to minimize mistakes and work on their weak areas. I believe we have a 50-50 chance, as Japan are no pushovers," said Shukri.
Australia, New Zealand, India and Britain will field many newcomers, as they blood youth to prepare for the World League Semi-finals -- which all six teams in Ipoh have qualified for.
India, hosts of the 2018 World Cup, have six Junior World Cup players on their side while the Kiwis have injected many new players after a string of retirements and injuries hit their side after the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
SATURDAY: Britain v India (4pm), New Zealand v Australia (6pm), Malaysia v Japan (8.35pm).
SUNDAY: India v New Zealand (4pm), Japan v Britain (6pm), Australia v Malaysia (8.35pm).