Kuala Lumpur (13 January, 2017): It’s more of an Asia versus Europe battle when the Women Hockey World League Round 2 gets underway on Saturday (14 January) at the Tun Razak Hockey Stadium here.
Hosts Malaysia joins Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan in a dramatic war on the pitch against Italy, Ireland and Wales for a top two finish to guarantee a place in the Hockey World League Semi-Finals – a final qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup in London.
The Italians, Irish and Welsh arrived here the last few days and are already feeling the heat – both from the sweltering rising temperatures of between 32-34 degrees Celsius in this Malaysian capital city and the pressure of performing against Asian sides equally determined to change their own fortunes and grab the boat to the next round.
The Italians are the top ranked team in the event and seen as the favourites to emerge top of Pool A, where they face Wales, Thailand and Singapore. Team captain Chiara Tiddi will be hoping her team can get off to a winning start when they face Wales on Saturday.
Wales (WR: 32) finished second behind Russia at the Hockey World League Round 1 event in Douai, France, gaining deserved confidence from three victories in four matches.
Thailand (WR: 31) and Singapore (WR: 43) also go head to head in Pool A on Saturday. Both teams qualified from the Round 1 event hosted by the Singaporeans, with Thailand claiming first place and Singapore finishing third. The Thais defeated Singapore 2-0 in a preliminary round match with Tikhamporn Sakunpithak, who leads the team here, netting one of her 13 competition goals.
Ireland (WR: 16) are the top ranked side in Pool B and are determined to keep alive their dream of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since the 2002 event in Perth, Australia.
With seven players having over 100 senior international appearances, including the 200 capped Shirley McCay and Cliodhna Sargent, they will certainly want to fancy their chances of making progress in Kuala Lumpur.
The Irish start their campaign against Kazakhstan (WR: 33), who qualified for this event with a second-place finish at the Hockey World League Round 1 event in Singapore. Natalya Gataulina top scored for Kazakhstan with six goals, and will be aiming to make a similar impact in Kuala Lumpur.
Host nation Malaysia (WR: 21) get off their Group B campaign against Hong Kong (WR: 37), who finished fourth at the Round 1 tournament in Singapore. With home ground advantage and a higher ranking, Malaysia will be seen as favourites for the contest, but Hong Kong will be keen to upset the odds.
The Malaysians have never surpassed the World League Round Two and it will be a challenge for Malaysia Tigress to do so in their own backyard. They have played a total of 25 international matches in preparation for the tournament.
“With the new format of a shoot-out if any match ends in a draw we have taken serious mote of this and have been training penalty shootout for more than a month now,” said Malaysia Tigress head coach K. Dharmaraj.
“And I hope my players will be able to deliver goals in the shoot out to win matches,” he added. “We need to claim full points against Hong Kong although it always tough to play the opening matches in any tournament.”
The Malaysian development team defeated Hong Kong 2-0 in the four-nation tournament in Hong Kong last April.
However, Dharmaraj, who had guided the Malaysian Men Juniors to a fourth-place finish in the 2013 Junior World Cup in New Delhi, India, added that their main challenge will be against Ireland, who they lost 5-0 in a match five years ago.
“We are much more prepared now and with home ground advantage we hope to rise to the occasion to give them a good fight,” he said, adding that the Tigress had also defeated Kazakhstan 5-0 in the World League Second Round in New Delhi in 2015.