The opening match between New Zealand and Ireland is just four days away. On Saturday 26 April, the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 kicks off in Kuantan, Malaysia. Eight teams battle for the coveted qualification spot for the 2016 Champions Trophy in Argentina.
New Zealand are considered by many to be tournament favourites following their impressive displays in recent months. The team, mentored by globally respected ex-Belgium coach and former Australian international Colin Batch, claimed a superb silver medal at the Hero Hockey World League Final in New Delhi this January.
The Black Sticks are one of three teams in Kuantan who will be in action at the upcoming Rabobank Hockey World Cup in The Hague (31 May - 15 June). The Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 will also be a key tournament in Korea’s and host Malaysia’s World Cup preparation.
Pool A at this Champions Challenge 1 edition features New Zealand, Ireland, Japan and Poland. Pool B sees Korea, Malaysia, Canada and first-time CC1 team France in action.
Although his team is favourite to win pool A, Black Sticks’ coach Batch points out: “We play Ireland first which will be an extremely difficult game. They’ve shown they can provide shocks so that’s a tough game first up. Also Japan, who we have played three times recently, are in our pool along with Poland who are a bit of a surprise package."
Japan – who finished as runners up to Pakistan in the 2013 Asian Champions Trophy – have featured in four previous editions of the men’s Champions Challenge 1, having claimed 5th place on three occasions (Kuala Lumpur 2001, Antwerp 2007 & Quilmes 2012).
Ireland are making their second successive appearance in the Champions Challenge 1, having debuted at the 2012 edition in Quilmes, Argentina. The “Green Machine” proved themselves to be the surprise team of the tournament, producing a string of classy, confident performances before eventually taking the bronze medal thanks to a Peter Caruth’s stunning Golden Goal winner against Malaysia.
2011 world indoor silver medallists Poland may be coming into this tournament as the lowest ranked team, but they certainly should not be under-estimated. Poland have featured in the two most recent editions of the Champions Challenge 1. The side finished a creditable sixth at the 2011 event in Johannesburg, although their 2012 campaign in Quilmes was less successful, finishing eighth.
Pool B favourites Korea enter the Champions Challenge 1 tournament as the continental champions of Asia, a title that they claimed on Malaysian soil last year thanks to victory over India in the final of the Asia Cup in Ipoh. Korea also showed signs of good form at the recent Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Notably, the Koreans faced two of their CC1 pool rivals at the event, comfortably defeating Canada 3-0 before earning a 2-2 draw with host nation Malaysia. Korea have been the runners-up in each of their three previous CC1 appearances (2003, 2005 and 2012).
Host nation Malaysia will also be using the event as a key element of their preparation for the upcoming Rabobank Hockey World Cup. A successful campaign in front of their passionate home fans in Kuantan could be the springboard to even greater accomplishments in Europe later this year. The new team coach, former Malaysian international Muhammad Dhaarma Raj, recently guided the team to a second place finish behind Australia at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
Like Korea, Canada return to Malaysia for the second time in two months, following their participation in March’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where they finished fourth. The squad, selected by head coach Anthony Farry, contains three players named in the 2013 Pan American Elite Team, with ace defender Scott Tupper being joined by strikers Matthew Guest and Mark Pearson on the 16-strong shortlist which recognises Pan American hockey’s most impressive performers.
CC1 debutants France are a team full of surprises. 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 fellow CC1 competitors Canada and Poland to snatch four wins from their five matches. Perhaps the most telling evidence of a change in French fortunes came at the Hero Hockey Junior World Cup in New Delhi in December when the young guns defied all expectations to reach the tournament final. Ten players from that hugely successful junior squad have been named in the senior team for Kuantan.A lot of action and breathtaking matches are guaranteed, so let’s get started! Back