Debutant France arrived for the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 hoping to create ripples of waves in this sea side city of Kuantan, beginning with the Group B tie against hosts Malaysia at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium on Saturday.
French coach Frederic Soyez said they have included 12 players from the Junior World Cup squad that claimed silver in New Delhi, India, last December, and hopes to reach their target of at least a fifth finish among the eight teams participating.
“We just finished playing test matches against Belgium. Although we lost in these matches it gave us good account before coming here for this tournament,” said Soyez after watching his young side defeat Japan 4-3 in a warm-up match on Wednesday at Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium.
“We did not have a very long preparation for the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 after the Junior World Cup as we are looking more towards the new season in Europe. But we hope to play well here against very strong top teams.”
He reckoned that the match against Malaysia, ranked world No 13, will be an exciting one and has told his players to be fully committed against a backdrop of rousing support from the local fans and a Malaysian side bent on improving past records in the tournament.
“It is going to be a good game. We have always wanted to play against Asian teams and our match against Malaysia will give us a good indication of our present level. The Malaysians are a very experienced side and play fast hockey. They are also preparing for the World Cup and if can stop them or pull off a point, that would be great,” added Soyez, who has also included five experienced players with international caps of more than 100.
They are goalkeeper Mathiew Durchon (169 caps), defender Francois Scheefer (127), team captain Martin Genestet (113), Valentin Migneau (104) and Lucas Sevestre (103).
The humidity and sweltering temperatures in Kuantan, said Soyez, has not affected them much as they have quickly adapted to the conditions here and are looking forward to their opening match against the host nation.
“The weather is good for us, the heat is fine and Malaysia is a nice place,” he said.
For the record, the Tricolores produced an outstanding performance on home soil at the Hockey World League Round 2 tournament in St. Germain last year where they finished second behind Belgium, defeating Canada and Poland in the process to snatch four wins from their five matches.
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