Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Endless possibilities with Dharmaraj..

THE coach with a Midas touch.
   K. Dharmaraj's brave-heart attitude has seen his charges win the Sultan of Johor Cup, the Junior Asia Cup and finally the national juniors graduated to finish fourth in the Junior World Cup in New Delhi last December.
   And when he was promoted to the position of senior coach after Paul Revington gave up, he found himself plagued with injury problems and a host of other problems from outside which made his task of selecting a squad for the Azlan Shah Cup almost a nightmare.
   Some quarters had questioned his choice of naming seven uncapped players from the Junior World Cup side for the  Azlan Shah Cup, as they claimed it might just flush the millions spent to organise the tournament down the drain.
   But in reality, Dharmaraj never had a choice, as  regular goalkeepers S. Kumar and Roslan Jamaluddin are injured.
   So he had to name  Junior World Cup goalkeepers Hafizuddin Othman and Faiz Hazrul.
   Also on the injury list are regular defenders Baljit Singh and Razie Rahim, who is also Malaysia's best penalty corner flicker, and with another handful of experienced players showing fatigue and aging legs, Dharmaraj brought in another five uncapped players who helped Malaysia finish fourth in New Delhi.
   The five who deserve a standing ovation are Azri Hassan, Meor Azuan Hasan, Rashid Baharom, Shahril Saabah, Shazril Irwan.
   "I had no choice but to take a gamble and field a big number of youth in my first assignment with the senior side, and the boys showed they have guts, and together with the regulars, they only lost to Australia.
"Now I have a bigger pool to choose from for the Champions Challenge, World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games,"  said Dharmaraj.
   Australia are Malaysia's opening match opponents in the World Cup.
   "Playing them twice in Ipoh was a chance of a lifetime as we prepare for the World Cup, where (No 13) Malaysia must strive to finish in the top-10 bracket to improve our world ranking."
    The Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) had set a quarter-final target for the Junior World Cup last year, yet the team made the semis and finished fourth. For the Azlan Shah Cup, the MHC target was bronze but the team won silver.
    And nobody would be surprised if Malaysia finish No 10 in the World Cup as the major difference between Dharmaraj and his predecessors is the word 'attack' as compared to 'defend'.
    In the 2002 Kuala Lumpur World Cup, this scribe had interviewed German coach Bernhard Peters and asked him how did he change the fortunes of his team from finishing fifth in the 2000 Olympics, to world champions two years later   and the answer was 'attack'.
    Peters had then said: "I have the same players who played in the Sydney Olympics. The previous coach told them to defend and they finished fifth, and when I told them to play attacking hockey, they won the World Cup."
     This is what Dharmaraj is striving to do.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Eighth Azlan Shah Cup, with Eight goals..

MALAYSIA gave away a total of 11 penalty corners and went down 8-3 to World No 1 Australia in the final of the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh yesterday.
    Five of the Aussie goals were off penalty corners, with Chris Ciriello scoring four, to claim their eight gold medal.
    Coach K. Dharmaraj's men, however deserve credit, as from the six goals that Australia let in, in the entire tournament, Malaysia had their name on five. The other one belonged to South Korea.
     It was a mismatch from the start as World No 1 Australia went for an early kill, and it was only 11 minutes into the match when they took a 2-0 lead.
   The first penalty corner saw Chris Ciriello, No 5, scoring off a low push to the board in the fifth minute, and like synchronised clockwork to their jersey numbers, No 11 Eddie Ockenden scored a field goal in the 11th minute.
   And by the 17th minute, Australia had almost sealed the match when Ciriello scored his brace off a penalty corner, for his fifth goal of the tournament.
   Malaysia could only defend for the next five minutes, as even the task of taking the ball out of their own semi-circle started to look like an impossible task.
   However, they got a break in the 23rd minute, when Firhan Ashaari was brought down, and the first penalty corner was awarded. Faizal Saari took the flick, and when it bounced off goalkeeper Andrew Charter, Shahril Saabah hammered home the rebound like a cricket shot which narrowed the gap.
   Australia went in a rampage again, but goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman was better prepared this time, and at the break, Australia only had a two-goal lead.
   Malaysia started agressively looking to narrow the gap, and found their second penalty corner in the 37th minute, but Faizal Saari's approach was easily stopped, but still, the second goal did come their way.
   This time, Izzat Hakimi took a free hit from outside the semi-circle, and Rashid Baharom connected home in the 40th minte and the crowd went wild with celebrations.
    But two minutes later, Ciriello broke their hearts for the third time, as he nailed a hat-trick of penalty corner goals.
    Again, Australia took the lead at 4-2, but there was still 26 minutes to play, with Malaysia being very generous in giving away penalty corners.
   It was penalty corner No 9, when another low flick saw Nicholas Budgeon's ball trickle and gently slam onto the board to make it 5-2.
   And penalty corner No 10 saw Ciriello score his fourth goal in the 52nd minute, and Matt Ghodes scores No 7 in the 65th minute.
   Fitri Saari made the score respectable with a field goal in the 67th minute, but Tristen White made it 8-3 in the 68th minute.
   RESULTS -- Final: Australia 8 Malaysia 3; Third-Fourth: South Korea 3 China 2; Fifth-Sixth: Canada 2 South Africa 0.

Player-of-the-tournament: Mark Knowles (Aust, Captain)
Fairplay: South Korea.
Man-of-the-Match: Chris Ciriello (Australia).
Best Goalkeeper: Lee Myung Ho (S Korea).
Top Goalscorer: Nicholas Budgeon (Aust, 8 goals).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Malaysia v Australia final...

MALAYSIA qualified for the final of the Azlan Shah Cup and will meet mighty Australia again in Ipoh today.
   Even though Malaysia were whipped 6-2 by Australia in the last pool match yesterday, South Korea needed four clear goals against South Africa to pip Malaysia to the final, but the Koreans could only win 5-2.
   This will be the second consecutive final against Australia, and Malaysia only lost 3-2 last year.
   Malaysia did well to hold Australia to only 1-0 going into the break, but a super effort form the World No 1 saw them score another five goals, before coach K. Dharmaraj's men woke up and narrowed the gap.
   The stadium was full to the brim, and supporters stood shoulder-to-shoulder supporting their men, and Faizal Saari was the toast of the match as his penalty corner brace in the 61st and 70th minute was unprecendented in the tournament.
   Australia had whipped every team in Ipoh by averaging six goals per match, and only Malaysia scored two against them. The only other goal the Aussies let in was when they beat South Korea 5-1.
    "Entering into the match, I knew there was a big possibility of being whipped by the Australians and I had two choices. One was to play cowardly by defending and moving up only on counter, or play our normal attacking style.
   "I chose to let the players loose, and not play cowardly, as we are in this tournament to learn, and there is no use in holding the reigns," said Dharmaraj.
   Malaysia will meet the Australians first in the World Cup in the Netherlands: "After today, believe my players would be much more prepared when we play Australia in the final. This second sparring session (in the final) would also be very valuable against our opening World Cup opponents," said Dharmaraj.
   After being 1-5 down, the coach took out goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman and replaced him with Hazrul Sobri, who earned his first international cap against the mighty Aussies.
   "Hafizuddin played well, but I replaced him with Hazrul to give him also a chance to play against Australia and earn his first cap. And I believe he did very well, as the only goal he let in was an unstoppable world class flick to the net," said Dharmaraj.
   The Australian goals were scored by Nicholas Budgeon (17th), Chris Ciriello (38th, 59th), Russell Ford (42nd), Daniel Beale (43rd), Jeremy Hayward (46th).

RESULTS: Australia 6 Malaysia 2, South Africa 2 South  Korea 5.


                       P  W  D  L  F  A  Pts
AUSTRALIA    5   5  0   0  31  3     15
MALAYSIA      5  3  1   1  17   14    10
S KOREA         5   3  1   1  14  11     10
CHINA             5   1  0   4  13  21    3
CANADA         5   1  0   4  7   18     3
S AFRICA        5   1  0   4  7  22     3

FIXTURES: Today -- Final: Australia v Malaysia (8.35pm); Third-Fourth: South Korea v China (6pm); Fifth-Sixth: Canada v South Africa (3.30pm).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Keep Calm Malaysia...

NOBODY expects Malaysia to beat World No 1 Australia in the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh today, but the fans can rest assured that coach K. Dharmaraj's men would strive to keep the score low.
   For this might just see them play Australia again in the final on Sunday.
   The Aussies have already qualified for the final and will be going for their eighth Azlan Shah Cup title, with the second spot being a toss between South Korea and Malaysia.
   Malaysia have a seven-goal cushion, while the Koreans are on level terms as they have scored nine and let in nine.
   Mathematically speaking, Malaysia need to keep the score against Australia low, and hope South Korea do not hammer the daylights out of South Africa in their chase for goals -- as they play after the Malaysian game and would know just how many goals to score.
   "The Australians are in a different league altogether as they are also the raging favourites for the World Cup. But we need to make sure we do not let in too many goals so that we have another chance to play them in the final," said Dharmaraj.
   This is the best chance for Malaysia to spar with Australia, as their next meeting would be in the opening match of the World Cup in The Netherlands on May 31-June 15. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has paired the World No 1 against the lowest ranked team in the World Cup, Malaysia at 13th, for the curtain raiser.
   "Playing Malaysia in Malaysia is a dream situation, as this would be our last chance to meet our first World Cup opponents. And with Malaysia having fast forwards who have very good individual skills, it would be a very interesting match for sure," said Australian skipper Mark Knowles who last played in the Azlan Shah Cup in 2006.
   Australia has a massive advantage over Malaysia, and their pedigree in the tournament saw them lift the title seven times in 1983, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2013.  And as hosts for 23 Editions, Malaysia's record stops at four silvers won in 1985, 2007,2009 and 2013.
    "Yes, the match would certainly be a very interesting one as not only are Malaysia a very fast side, but also have a very supportive fan base and when they fill up the stadium, the noise is deafening and the atmosphere is electrifying. We don't get mush of this in Australia, so the experience would be good heading into the World Cup," said Australian coach Ric Charlesworth.
    The Ipoh fans have filled the Azlan Shah Stadium to the brim during all the Malaysian fixtures, and today would also see a mammoth turnout. And the fans would not be disappointed if their team lose to Australia, as all they would be looking for today is a brave fight.
   Keeping in mind that Dharmaraj took the risk of blooding seven rookies for this edition, the boys showed their mettle by beating China, Canada and South Africa and their draw was against Asian giants South Korea.
    But with Australia hammering South Korea 5-1, and all their other scores were in the region of sixers and sevens, and only letting in one goal, tonight's match can turn into a mismatch, or the crowning glory in Malaysia's record against Australia.


                       P  W  D  L  F  A  Pts
AUSTRALIA    4   4  0   0  25  1     12
MALAYSIA      4  3  1   0  15   8    10
S KOREA         4   2  1   1  9  9      7
CHINA             5   1  0   4  13  21    3
CANADA         5   1  0   4  7   18     3
S AFRICA        4   1  0   3  5  17     3

    March 21: REST DAY.
    March 22: Australia v Malaysia (6pm), South Africa v South  Korea (8pm).