Hosts Malaysia and two-time champions Pakistan promised a dazzling performance in their opening act of the QNET 4th Asian Champions Trophy which begins tomorrow at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium in Kuantan.
Head coach Stephen van Huizen is confident his Malaysian Tigers have the pedigree to exploit the defending champions, who emerged champions in 2012 and 2013, in front of hockey-loving fans in this coastal city.
He added that Malaysia will field its strongest penalty corner battery of six players, as well as having a far improved squad than the one which finished sixth in the recent Australian Hockey League.
“Both Pakistan and Malaysia missed out of the Rio Olympics and are trying to climb back into the world hockey ladder and so I expect a tough match from the ACT defending champions," said van Huizen at a pre-match press conference here today.
The six penalty corner specialists for Malaysia are Shahril Saabah, Fitri Shaari, Firhan Ashaari, Mohd Razie Abdul Rahim, Najmi Fariza and the Terengganu’s forward Faizal Saari.
“Our penalty corner choices are the strongest ever as I have five other players to select from other than our No 1 Razie Rahim,” said Van Huizen. “This will be our mainstay in the tournament, where we aim to qualify for the semi-finals first and then take one game at a time."
“Of course we will miss the services of Marhan Jalil, Muhammad Izad and Baljit Singh but we do expect injuries along the way. We lost two guys due to injuries but compensated with Razie and Nabil. Don’t forget that Nabil is very experience in midfield and we have introduced Faizal back into the team. We have a very good competition side,” said Van Huizen.
He, however, cautioned that Pakistan has a good and strong history and Malaysia’s track record against them has been nothing but sultry.
“We did beat Pakistan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy (1-0) which was the last time both teams played against each other and we expect a very tough match against them.”
“They are a very experienced team and are trying to come back in the world of hockey. And being defending champions we expect them to be very well prepared for this tournament,” added the Malaysian head coach.
The Malaysians have never beaten Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy – losing 3-2 in the inaugural 2011 event, securing a 2-2 draw in 2012 and lost 1-0 in 2013. The tournament was not held in 2014 and 2015.
Pakistan, however, are saddened with the absence of team captain Mohamed Irfan, who never arrived in Kuantan, due to visa problems back home.
Coach Junaid Khan said the absence of Irfan will be felt, but they have Plan B to counter the Malaysians. Pakistan won the last two editions and is gunning for a hat-trick.
“Our captain Irfan could not make it here due to visa problems and so we will be bringing in another player soon. It will be tougher for us now, but we have a Plan B to counter his absence," said Junaid.