Let’s take a closer look at the upcoming matches
The quarter finals of the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 in Kuantan see New Zealand facing Malaysia, Korea clashing with Japan, Ireland taking on France and Canada facing Poland.
New Zealand v Malaysia
The Black Sticks won all their matches in pool A defeating Ireland (2-1), Japan (6-1) and Poland (8-1). Because New Zealand are the highest ranked team (world ranking number 6) here in Kuantan, they are considered by many to be tournament favourites, which is hardly surprising considering their impressive displays in recent months. “They are not used to this heat, so we hope that we will be able to win”, says Malaysia coach Muhammad Dhaarma Raj although his team finished at the bottom of pool B. The host nation lost to France (3-2) and Korea (3-1) before bouncing back against Canada (4-3). “They are a world cup team, too. This will be a tough challenge”, says Black Sticks captain Dean Couzins. Black Sticks coach Colin Batch agrees: “We expect a tough game. Malaysia seem to have returned to form last night.” Malaysia are currently ranked 13th in the world.
Canada v Poland
Canada finished second in pool B after getting the better end of France (3-2), forcing Korea to a draw (3-3) and losing to Malaysia (4-3). Team coach Anthony Farry says: “We will have a look at the video footage now. I think we have a good record against Poland and we always enjoy playing them.” The Polish team, which came third in pool A, is also looking forward to the encounter. Poland have high ambitions as Pawel Bratkowski points out: “We want to finish in the top four.” In the group stage Poland surprised by defeating Ireland 2-1. They narrowly lost 3-2 to Japan in the opening match and had no chance against New Zealand when they were beaten 8-3. Poland are the lowest ranked team (18) here in Kuantan. At 16, Canada are two places ahead of Poland in the current FIH world ranking list.
Ireland v France
Ireland and France set up an all-European encounter between two equal teams. The Green Machine finished second in pool A thanks to their 1-0 win over Japan. Their previous pool matches were lost to New Zealand and Poland (both 2-1). “We were a bit unlucky against New Zealand and Poland and finally we got the win we deserved” says Irish goalkeeper David Harte. “We are here with a very young team and we want to improve” explains French coach Frederic Soyez. His team have an average age of 23.6 years and are the youngest in Kuantan. The Tricolores finished third in pool B thanks to a 3-2 win over Malaysia before losing 3-2 to Canada and Korea respectively. Both teams are also close in the world ranking with Ireland being 15th and France being 17th.
Korea v Japan
The last quarter final sees Korea taking on their Asian rivals from Japan. Like New Zealand and Malaysia, Korea is also qualified for the Rabobank Hockey World Cup in The Hague. Korea had a slow start in pool B when they drew 3-3 with Canada but they have shown constant improvement by defeating Malaysia 3-1 and winning 3-2 against France to top pool B. The current title-holders of the Asia Cup are still unbeaten in Kuantan. However, Korea has high respect for Japan as stand-in manager Paul Lissek points out: “Japan are a good side. They are fast in the counter attacks here and we will definitely not take them lightly.” Japan were unlucky in the pool stage, finishing at the bottom of pool A. They celebrated a 3-2 win against Poland in the opening game, before losing 6-1 to New Zealand and 1-0 to Ireland. Ireland, Poland and Japan finished on three points each but Japan found themselves at the bottom of the table because of goal difference and the fact, that they scored less goals than Poland. Korea, ranked 7th in the world, are the clear favourites against 14th ranked Japan.