By AFTAR SINGH
KUALA LUMPUR: Penalty corner specialist Mohd Nor Hafiq Abdul Gaffar is racing against time to get fit for the Junior World Cup Finals, which Malaysia will co-host with Singapore from June 7-21.
The Batu Pahat defender was out of action for three weeks after undergoing surgery for appendicitis in Kuantan on May 5. He only resumed training last Thursday.
Coach K. Rajan said that Nor Hafiq was given a chance to play a friendly match against the national senior side for 10 minutes and he was unimpressive.
“He looked rusty but I need him in my game plan for the penalty corner flicks. He has one week to get back into shape for the Junior World Cup,” said Rajan.
“Nor Hafiq was our top penalty corner flicker in the team but after a three-week layoff, he has dropped to third choice.’’
Rajan added that forward Faizal Saari was now the main flicker while defender Ahmad Kazamirul Nasruddin is the second choice.
The 19-year-old Nor Hafiq was the toast of the team in the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney in January, scoring five goals in four matches. In a playing tour of Europe in March, he scored four goals in the nine matches.
Nor Hafiq said that he was concerned about his fitness level and also the lack of power in his penalty corner flicks.
“I only have a week to get fit for the Junior World Cup and I have to work overtime to regain my form,” he said. “I am also going to the gym daily to work on my wrist muscles to put more power in my penalty corner flicks.”
There are 21 players in the training squad and three will be dropped by Thursday.
Malaysia will open their campaign in Group C against England on June 7. Their other matches are against South Korea (June 8), the United States (June 10) and Spain (June 12).
Group A have defending champions Argentina, Belgium, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia while Australia, Germany, Chile, Japan and South Africa are drawn in Group B. Group D comprises Singapore, India, Holland, Poland and New Zealand.
The Group A and C matches will be held at the Taman Daya Stadium in Johor Baru while the other two groups will be played at the Sengkang Stadium in Singapore. The top two teams in each group qualify for the second round from June 14.