Eight of the best emerging men’s teams in the world are primed and ready for the first of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Series Finals which start in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.
The event, which will take place on newly-laid turf and with the spectacular Petronas Towers dominating the landscape, will be the first in a series of three over the next three months which will offer routes to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The top two teams from each of the FIH Series Finals – different groups of eight will be involved in each one – will secure a place in the qualification events for the 2020 Games which will be held in October and November 2019.
The two other men’s Series Finals will be in Bhubaneswar, India from June 6 to 16, and Le Touquet, in France, from June 15 to 23.
A parallel FIH Series Finals for women will take place in Bainbridge, Ireland from June 8-16, Hiroshima, in Japan, from June 15-23, and Valencia, in Spain, from June 19-27.
Places at the FIH Series Finals have been determined following various events across the world.
Tomorrow’s action in the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil will see the highest-ranked team, Canada, who are 10th in the world list, take on 24th-ranked Wales in one of two Pool A matches.
The second sees 19th-ranked Austria play Belarus, whose ranking is 31.
In Pool B the hosts, world-ranked 13th, meet Brazil, who are 27th-ranked, and China, ranked 14, meet Italy, who are ranked 32nd.
The playing surface in the National Hockey Stadium was relaid as part of an upgrade to the old pitches that were on the same site and both the men’s and women’s national teams have played on the surface already.
Malaysia has a proud tradition of holding major sports events.
In the past few decades, Kuala Lumpur has hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games and the 2017 Southeast Asian Games.
Each FIH Series Final will consist of a two-pool round, with the winners of each pool qualifying for the semi-finals.
The remaining three teams in each pool will play crossover matches to decide who qualifies for the remaining semi-final places.
The winners of the semi-finals will go through to a final and play at the FIH Olympic qualifiers.
Meanwhile, the FIH has confirmed the pools and match schedules for the second round of men’s and women’s FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar and Hiroshima, respectively.
In the men’s competition, hosts India will be grouped with Poland, Russia and Uzbekistan in Pool A, while Pool B will involve South Africa, Asian Games champions Japan, the United States and Mexico.
In the women’s event at Hiroshima, the hosts will be in Pool B alongside Chile, Russia and Mexico.
Pool A will comprise India, Poland, Uruguay and Fiji.
If Japan, Scotland or Wales finish in the top two of their respective pools, they will not secure a place in the FIH Olympic qualifiers.
Japan have already qualified as hosts and winners of the Asian Games; while for Scotland and Wales, the reason is that England are the nominated country for Great Britain’s qualification pathway.
If any of these three teams finish in the top two, the team which finishes third does not automatically qualify for the FIH Olympic qualifiers.
Any such additional place will be determined by the FIH world rankings as at the completion of the continental championships on September 8.