The strong presence of some of the best polo-playing nations in the Asian-Australasian-African Championships which are also the Zone D playoffs for the 2011 FIP Polo World Cup has not diminished Malaysia’s hopes and “humble target” in any way.

Instead, Malaysia are ready to mount a serious challenge for the title despite the presence of teams like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Nigeria – to battle for a top three finish which will earn them a ticket to this year’s FIP World Cup Finals in San Luis, Argentina from Oct 11-25.

HRH Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the president of the Royal Malaysian Polo Association (RMPA), was briefed on the team’s progress by chief coach Carlos Pandoi and team manager Ahmad Jamili Rashid on Thursday, soon after his return from overseas.

“We have a very strong field in this Qualifier. Some of the best polo playing countries will be challenging for honours…teams like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India or Pakistan and even Nigeria have great polo traditions.

“But we have our own mission…that is to win the title or at least finish in the top three to qualify for the World Cup Finals. This is our humble target. As hosts, we have the home-ground advantage and this is a plus factor that we need to tilt in our favour,” said Tengku Abdullah, who is also the Crown Prince of Pahang.

Tengku Abdullah has taken a personal interest in the Zone D Qualifier as Malaysia hope to create polo history and qualify for their first ever World Cup Finals. This was seen when hours after arriving in Pekan, Tengku Abdullah was at the dry-run of the opening ceremony despite the rain.

“I have been told the team is raring to go. The team has shown vast improvement in all departments. The trainer and physiotherapist, who have been with the team since the Terengganu Open Championships, have added weight.

“The fitness level of the players has gone up. Polo is a very demanding game and you have to be really fit to face the challenges. I am confident the team will do well. Malaysia will be there fighting for top honours.

“If we don’t win the title but finish in the top three and qualify (for the World Cup Finals) it will be history,” said Tengku Abdullah, adding that Malaysia hopes to get a good group when the draw for the Horse Groups is done tomorrow.

He later met the players and team officials.

The Malaysian team is captained by Shaik Reismann (Handicap 3), Huzaini Yunos (4), Amran Selamat (2), Muhammad Edham Shaharuddin (4), Saladin Mazlan (3) and Tengku Ahmad Shazril (3).

Malaysia, drawn in Zone A, will open their campaign with a match against New Zealand on Tuesday and India on Friday, both of whom are drawn in Zone B. South Africa, Pakistan and Nigeria are drawn in Zone C.

The preliminary matches and the semi-finals will be played at the Royal Pahang Polo Club in Pekan while the third and fourth placing match and the final will be at the Royal Selangor Polo Club on June 24 and June 25 respectively.

Malaysia will play Nigeria in 4 chukkas friendly match at the Royal Pahang Polo Club (Field 2) tomorrow at 4pm. Admission to the championships is free.

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