Malaysia's Faizal Saari in action.
Malaysia's Faizal Saari in action.
(Photo: FIH / Frank Uijlenbroek)

Although hockey is a team sport it is always worth taking a closer look at some of the outstanding individuals in the squads at the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 in Kuantan.

Phil Burrows is the most-capped player in Hockey New Zealand’s history having played 312 international matches, while team-captain Dean Couzins recently became the second Black Stick to reach the 300 club.

One day before the tournament kicks off in Kuantan, Phil is celebrating his 34th birthday. Like his team-mates, he is also looking forward to the opening match between New Zealand and Ireland. “This will be a tough match, we need to see how well we can deal with the heat”, Burrows says. His concern is well-founded; the match starts at 3.00 pm local time and New Zealand haven’t trained at the pitch at this time of day so far.

Burrows has been a member of the Black Sticks squad for more than 14 years now and he is still considered to be one of the world’s finest strikers and a true talisman for his team. “I’m in my 15th year now and I’m still enjoying it”, Burrows says. When asked whether he is planning to retire after the Rabobank Hockey World Cup in The Hague, he said: “No, I will carry on. The Olympic Games in Rio are a major goal for me.”

Burrows agrees that the silver medal recently won at the Hero Hockey World League Final in Delhi early this year has given his team a lot of self-confidence. “We know that we can compete in the top tournaments”, Burrows says also pointing out the importance of this silver medal for Hockey New Zealand. After the success in Delhi the Black Sticks are considered by many to be tournament favourites in Kuantan.

Faizal Saari is the star in the Malaysian team. He is an eye-catching and supremely skilful attacker who regularly gets his name on the score-sheet. "We are excited about this tournament“, Faizal said. Despite only being 23 years of age, Faizal has already played an impressive number of 137 matches for Malaysia.

His team is one of three teams in Kuantan which has also qualified for the Rabobank Hockey World Cup kicking off in The Hague on May 31st. Before impressing in The Netherlands, team Malaysia would like to grab the ticket for the Champions Trophy 2016 here at the CC1 in Kuantan. “We have been preparing well, and it’s time to do our best, it’s not going to be easy but we will try our best" said Faizal who recently played hockey in Berlin for TC Blau Weiss. His team mate, Kevin Lim, plays for local rivals of Berliner HC.

Canadian team-captain Scott Tupper missed much of his team's preparations for CC1 as he has been playing club hockey in Belgium for RC Brussels and starred in last week's Euro Hockey League KO16. His team defied all expectations by reaching the last four, meaning the 27-year-old was still involved in EHL business until Monday.

“This was a pleasant surprise because we didn’t except to win our first and our second game”, Tupper explains. “My flight was originally booked for Monday but then I sent an e-mail to the team manager asking whether it would be ok to come later.” His request was approved by Team Canada, so Tupper was able to participate in Monday’s bronze medal which his Racing Club eventually lost to Belgium rivals KHC Dragons. 

“This was already a busy week for me and it will be another busy weekend”, Tupper says. Regarding his expectations on Canada’s performance in Kuantan he adds: “We are expecting high quality matches. We want to finish well by trying to push into the semi finals.”