Defending Asian-Australasian-African champions South Africa suffered a setback before coming to Malaysia but they hell bent on retaining the title and book their place for only the second time in the FIP Polo World Cup Finals.
The South Africans had to leave behind young Sbu Duma, their number one player behind when he injured his knee ligaments while playing in a friendly football match six weeks ago. He has been replaced by Johan Du Preez.
The only player with World Cup experience is Terence Spilsbury (Handicap 4), who played in the last World Cup Finals in Mexico.
South Africa, who went to Mexico as the Zone champions in the last Qualifier held in New Zealand, however, failed to make the second round in their World Cup debut.
The others in the team are skipper Campbell Macnab (3), Duncan Watson (4), Lance Watson (4) and Shaun Brokensha (3). Duncan is the son of South Africa’s ace polo international Russell Watson, with 90 caps.
Team manager Clive Peddle said Duma’s absence has made a difference to the team but Du Preez is an able replacement to carry the team’s challenge when the tournament gets underway at the Royal Pahang Polo Ground (RPPC) in Pekan, Pahang.
After the opening ceremony, South Africa will take on Nigeria on RPPC Field 1 at 4pm – to renew their continental rivalry.
“We have come with a relatively young and inexperienced team for this tournament.But it is a good all round team and we want to make it to Argentina,” said Peddle.
“We had hoped that Duma would recover in time but he did not. It is sad that he got injured playing football and not polo. But that’s sports...sometimes the unexpected happen.
“It is not going to be easy but we are ready to face the challenge. All the teams have come well prepared. We played a warm-up match against Nigeria today and they have some good players. Of course both teams did not show their true capabilities today.”
“Since South Africa and Nigeria will play in the opening match in the Qualifier, we will start on equal footing. Still, we rate our chances as good...but so do Nigeria. I am looking for a winning start to the tournament as we want to be in Argentina (for the Finals).”
Nigeria coach Dawule Baba, said: “Nigeria is one of the most established polo playing nations in Africa but we have never made it to the World Cup Finals. We hope to change all that in Malaysia.”
The Nigerian team is made up of Abdulmalik Badamasi (Handicap 1), Mohammed Dawule (1), Hamisu Buba (4), Ibrahim Muhammed (4), Mohammed Babangida (4) and Bello Buba (5).
The Asian-Australasian-African Championships will also double up the Zone D Qualifier with the top three teams qualifying for this year’s World Cup Finals which will be played in San Luis, Argentina from Oct 11-25.
The teams playing in the Qualifier are South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Nigeria.
The preliminary round and semi-finals will be played at RPPC grounds until June 21. The the third and fourth placing match and the final will be played at the Royal Selangor Polo Club in Kuala Lumpur on June 24and June 25 respectively.