The Malaysian Juniors are under pressure even before the first whistle is blown at the jointly hosted 2009 Junior World Cup that gets underway tomorrow.
For the Malaysian Hockey Federation has set a semi final target for the team, and to achieve that will take a huge effort from coach K. Rajan and his motley crew.
This is because, unlike their predecessors, the current Malaysian Junior side did not have the ideal of preparations, changing coaches’ midway over the past two years.
When Malaysia returned with the fourth placing from the inaugural Junior World Cup in Paris, there was renewed hope for Malaysian hockey at that time. And the players from that team went on to contribute towards Malaysian hockey for years to come.
It was another fourth placing when Malaysia hosted the Junior World Cup in 1982, but it has been a downward trend after that.
Malaysia finished tenth in Vancouver in 1985 before an sixth placing when Ipoh played hosts in 1989. The team finished eleventh in Teressa four years later.
Perhaps the biggest blow was the failure to qualify for the 1997 edition at Milton Keynes and Malaysian players in that era, in the likes of S. Kuhan, Nor Azlan Bakar, Mohd Nasihin Nubli and Hasnizam Ah Sim missed the opportunity to strut their stuff at the world junior stage.
There was much hope placed on the team that went to Hobart in 2001, but they too failed to live up to expectations, finishing in a lowly 12th position.
And Malaysia were unlucky in 2005 in Rotterdam as they put up a spirited display but only managed a tenth spot, gaining consolation perhaps from the fact that the two finalists, Argentina and Australia were from their group in the preliminary rounds.
And Rajan will probably be ruing the lack of preparation and time accorded to him, unlike Dato R. Yogeswaran (1979), Yusop Mydin (1982), Mohamad Sidek (1985), Yang Siow Meng (1989), C. Paramalingam (1993), Yahya Atan (2002) and Sarjit Singh (2005)
The JWC is being jointly hosted by Malaysia and Singapore and will no doubt face logistical problems, as evident yesterday when teams based in Johor Baru had to leave their hotels four hours ahead of the opening ceremony, which was held in Singapore.
But putting that aside, it is the undue pressure on the team that will interest many quarters.
In order to meet the target, Malaysia has to finish amongst the top two in the group stage. And it is not going to be easy as they have to contend with the likes of South Korea, Spain, England and USA.
Malaysia opens their campaign in the Junior World Cup at the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium in Johor Baru against England before taking on the Koreans on Monday.
Some have labeled it as a mission to avenge the defeat in the 2005 Junior World Cup in Rotterdam where Malaysia lost the 9/10th placing to England.
But in actual fact the result holds the key to just how far Malaysia hopes to progress in the tournament.
A win will put them in the correct frame of mind before taking on Korea, but a defeat could well see their target evaporating barely 48 hours after the tournament gets underway.