By Jugjet Singh
RESPECT is what the Malaysian hockey team needs to start earning, if they want to break into the top-10 bracket in the world.
It is the vital ingredient which is conspicuously missing since a decade ago, when we started losing to minnows in qualifiers and friendlies.
And the 4-4 draw with Italy, better known for soccer than hockey, in the Olympic Qualifier in Kakamigahara, Japan in 2008 was among the major reasons why European teams lost respect of our national side.
Compared with European sides, hockey players in Malaysia are a blessed lot, as they travel far and wide to gain experience before any major tournaments but still lose to teams who rely more on domestic tournaments for ex posure.
This year alone, the national players have competed in the Azlan Shah Cup, then went on China, Australia and Europe Tours to play friendlies, and also a Five-Nation.
But rather than improve and gain recognition, Malaysia lost to China and also to Australian club sides, which further dragged their sagging respect to further depths.
Their latest defeat was to an Irish side which in this year, only played in the Celtic Cup in June and then the recent friendlies against Malaysia.
That was all the exposure which the Irish had this year.
But still, the Irish lads held Malaysia to a 3-3 draw and only lost 4-2 and 3-2 before winning the final match 2-1. This is because they no longer respect Malaysia after beating them 2-1 in the semi-finals of the Champions Challenge II in Dublin last year.
The Italians, Irish, Poles, Scots, French and Belgium no longer fear Malaysia, and that is why we keep losing to them in Qualifiers and missing the boat to Olympics and World Cups.
Australia are the most feared team in the world right now, as they have earned their stripes with Olympic and World Cup gold medals.
Now, even when Netherlands, German and Spain play Australia, they show great respect by not adopting open play, which in turn is capitalised by the Aussies to mount full presses resulting in early goals.
Malaysia have a golden chance to regain some respect when they start their Five-Nation in France today.
They must not only beat, but score as many goals as possible against Poland, Ireland, Scotland and France in the Five-Nation if they hope to be respected when they play in the Commonwealth and then the all-important Asian Games.
If not, Australia, India and Pakistan will maul us in the Commonwealth Games, and in the Asian Games grouping, South Korea and China will slam the semi-finals door shut on van Huizen’s men.
In the end, we will end up struggling to even beat Oman and Singapore in the Asian Games, just like when we could only beat Hong Kong 2-1 in the Doha Games in 2006.
Respect cannot be learned, purchased or acquired - it can only be earned, and Malaysia must start their journey in France today.