The Hockey World League - the tournament that makes the dream of reaching the Rio 2016 Olympic Games a possibility for every hockey playing nation – enters a new phase this weekend, with the breathtaking city-state of Singapore playing host to the first of six (three men, three women) Round 2 events that will take place over the coming months.
The three highest finishers in the eight-team men’s tournament, which takes place between Saturday 17th and Sunday 25th January, will each be guaranteed a place in the semi-final of the competition, where coveted berths at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games are up for grabs.
Like all of the upcoming Round 2 events, the competition in Singapore will witness a clash between teams that battled their way through the first phase of the competition against sides that were automatically given a bye through to Round 2 due to their higher placement in the FIH World Rankings. The top ranked teams – those placed from 1-11 in the FIH World Rankings in April 2013, the entry deadline for the event – will enter the tournament at the semi-final stage.
With a current World Ranking of 12th, Malaysia arrive in Singapore as clear tournament favourites but are certainly not going to have an easy ride. The talented team lead by seasoned campaigner Azlan Misron – a player who is rapidly closing in on 350 international appearances – have targeted top spot, but need to negotiate their way past Pool A rivals Oman (WR: 23, 2nd place - HWL R1, Muscat), Ukraine (WR: 24, 3rd place - HWL R1, Hradek Kralove) and host nation Singapore (WR: 37) ahead of the quarter-final cross-overs.
“By going into the tournament as top-seeds we need to keep our reputation intact and what better way than win the gold medal”, said Misron in a recent interview. "Having said that, we are not overconfident playing against lower ranked teams, but are confident with our own capabilities."
Malaysia’s biggest threats to a first place finish in Singapore appear to lie in Pool B, with Japan (WR: 15) and Poland (WR: 18) both being capable of mounting a serious challenge for the event win.
Bangladesh and Mexico complete the Pool B line-up, and will be determined to make their mark on Round 2 in the same way that they did in Round 1. Bangladesh stormed to victory at the Round 1 event in Dhaka, while Mexico – who feature in Round 2 following the withdrawal of Fiji – finished second behind Chile at the tournament in Guadalajara.
You can keep track of the tournament in Singapore on the official tournament microsite.