Thursday, January 8, 2015
NATIONAL chief coach Tai Beng Hai will select his final 18 for the World League Round Two today, with fitness still a nagging problem.
The tournament, in Singapore from Jan 17-25, offers three teams the chance to play in the World League Semi-finals either in Belgium or Argentina, which in turn opens a door to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Beng Hai's selection is based on performances in the Asian and Commonwealth Games, as well as the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) and recent Poland friendlies.
"I have been with the team for more than two weeks now, and the biggest hurdle is fitness as the form of many players had dropped after playing for their clubs in the MHL.
"This has been a perennial problem, but the good news is that the MHL was played for four-quarters (same as the World League) and I feel the players I will name, will have no problem finishing among the top-three to claim our spot in the World League Semi-finals," said Beng Hai.
Malaysia are the top-seeds in Singapore, but their run-up has not been too promising as they drew 4-4 and then lost 4-3 to Poland who made a stop-over on their way to Singapore.
"Fitness was one of the reasons why we did not do well against Poland, but I am confident that my players will not disappoint during the tournament.
"My selection is based on players performances in the Asian and Commonwealth Games, as well as leadership shown for their various clubs in the MHL.
"Some players have improved, while some will need a little more pushing before we are ready," said Beng Hai.
With time not on his side, Beng Hai will have to make sure Malaysia emerge tops in Group A as they only have Oman, Ukraine and Singapore to play against.
Singapore were in Group B earlier, but when Fiji withdrew and were replaced by Mexico, the hosts will play Malaysia now.
The format is such that all eight teams play in the quarter-finals, and if Malaysia finish tops in Group A, they will probably be paired with Bangladesh or Mexico in the quarter-finals.
Beng Hai is already looking at the semi-finals: "Going by seeding, we will possibly meet either Japan or Poland in the semi-finals, and that is the game to win and enter the final to claim our World League Semi-finals ticket early."
The road to either Belgium or Argentina looks rosy at the moment for top-seeded Malaysia, but we have lost to the likes of Trinidad and Tobago last year, and this is the banana skin which Beng Hai and his men must avoid at all cost when they play lower ranked sides like Oman and Ukraine in Group A, and either Bangladesh or Mexico in the quarter-finals.
Group A: Malaysia, Oman, Ukraine, Singapore; Group B: Japan, Poland, Bangladesh, Mexico.