New Zealand, Japan, Poland and Ireland are the teams battling it out in Pool A at the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 in Kuantan, Malaysia. Let’s get some more information on them!
NEW ZEALAND - current world ranking: 6
The mighty Black Sticks are considered by many to be tournament favourites for the Champions Challenge 1, which is hardly surprising considering 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 and have set their sights on getting among the medals at the upcoming Rabobank Hockey World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands. Batch has named a strong squad for the tournament, with 11 players each having amassed more than 100 international caps. Defender and team captain Dean Couzins recently surpassed the 300 appearance mark and joins Phil Burrows in the 300 club.
JAPAN - current world ranking: 14
The Japan men’s team – known as “The Samurais” – come into the Champions Challenge 1 tournament in Kuantan on the back of a series loss against Pool A favourites New Zealand. The Asians produced a fine, battling display to overcome a two goal deficit to claim a 2-2 draw in the series opener before losing the next two fixtures 2-0 and 5-1 against their higher ranked opponents. 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). They will be determined to get among the medals in Kuantan, something that they are more than capable of achieving if they play to their potential. At 30 years of age, goalkeeper Katsuya Takese is the oldest member of the Japan squad named for this tournament, with Takuro Sasaki being the youngest at 22. Sasaki will be making his senior international tournament debut in Kuantan. The squad contains five players that have in excess of 100 international caps: Koji Kayukawa (100+), Tomonori Ono (120+), Kei Kawakami (160+), Katsuyoshi Nagasawa (110+) and Hiroki Sakamoto (100+).
IRELAND - current world ranking: 15
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. The Irishmen will be hoping to achieve even greater things this time around. The team is coached by former South African international star Craig Fulton, who took charge in March following the mutually agreed departure of Andrew Meredith at the end of 2013. Ace goalkeeper David Harte, captain John Jackson and Eugene Magee are the most experienced members of the squad with over 420 combined caps between them, while 31 year old Maurice Elliott is set to feature in his first senior international tournament.
POLAND - current world ranking: 18
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. The squad contains plenty of talent, with Tomasz Gorny, Bartosz Zywiczka and team captain Pawel Bratkowski – who takes the armband in place of the injured Dariusz Rachwalski – being the stand-out players in the group. The absence of talismanic attacker Rachwalski is a big blow to the Polish squad, but you can guarantee that the side will be fit, organised and ready to take on all opponents at the event in Kuantan. Poland, coached by Karol Sniezek, 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, South Africa, although their 2012 campaign in Quilmes, Argentina was less successful, finishing eighth. They also endured a tough time at last year’s TriFinance EuroHockey Championships, with a seventh place finish resulting in relegation from the elite tier ahead of the 2015 edition of the tournament. The team will be determined to produce a strong performance in Kuantan. At the age of 31, Philipp Weide is set to make his international debut in Kuantan. Weide is one month younger than Ireland’s Maurice Elliott, who is also set to make his international debut in Kuantan. Goalkeeper Arkadiusz Matuszak (33) is the oldest player in the Poland squad, with Adam Chwalisz (21) being the youngest. Matuszak (110+) and Gorny (120+) are the only players in the Polish squad named for this event to have made over 100 senior international appearances.