THE draw looks tough but national Juniors coach K. Rajan remains optimistic that he can guide Malaysia into the quarter-finals of the Junior World Cup (JWC) in June.
The release of the fixtures by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) yesterday added to his confidence as Malaysia will have ample rest between matches.
They will need it as they have South Korea, Spain, England and the United States for company in Group C.
South Korea and Spain are powerhouses at the senior level while England’s juniors finished ninth, one place ahead of Malaysia, in the 2005 edition of the JWC in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
“The fixtures give us ample time to recover, as there are breaks between matches. My target is to be among the top-two in our group, and qualify for the quarter-finals,” said Rajan yesterday.
Malaysia will open their campaign against England at the Taman Daya Stadium in Johor Baru on June 7. England beat Malaysia 3-2 in the 9th-10th classification in the 2005 Junior World Cup.
They play South Korea the next day and after a day’s break, it will be the United States.
They wrap up the preliminary round with a tie against Spain.
“We will be playing three friendlies against the national seniors next week, and it will show how far my team have progressed. When we played them earlier (in the form of Ernst & Young who are virtually the national team), we received a hammering.
“But after the Australian stint, and improving their fitness, I am sure they will fare much better.”
The squad will start training at the competition venue in March.
“It will give us a feel of the pitch, and in the middle of March, we will be playing a Four-Nation there.”
Group A: Argentina, Belgium, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia; Group B: Australia, Chile, Germany, Japan, South Africa; Group C: England, South Korea, Malaysia, Spain, USA; Group D: India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore.
(Groups A & C in Johor Baru, Groups B & D in Singapore).