Monday, October 11, 2010

Asian Games hopes in tatters

By Vijesh Rai

STEPHEN Van Huizen knew he would be in for a tough time when he accepted the post of national hockey coach in April.
Van Huizen was the Malaysian Hockey Federation's (MHF) choice after its protracted search for a foreign coach yielded no results and the 7-0 whipping by Australia in a Commonwealth Games match on Sunday would have left those who rejected the post thanking their lucky stars.
The depressing result, Van Huizen admitted, was a fair reflection of where Malaysian hockey is and salvation is unlikely to come in the Asian Games next month.
MHF has set the gold as the target but with Malaysia losing to both India and Pakistan in New Delhi and with South Korea and China for company in their group in Guangzhou, there is a possibility that even the semi-finals may not be made.
"The players were guilty of giving Australia too much respect and when we trailed by three goals after 15 minutes, it made the task impossible," said Van Huizen yesterday.
"Australia scored from four of the five penalty corners they had and that shows just what their level is. We played our normal game and tried to deny them opportunities but Australia are such a team that they can find a solution to any problem and hurt us.
"The result, though bad, is exactly how it is us for us when we play Australia. We lost 12-2 to them last year and rebounded to win 1-0 but their level is much higher than us."
Though Van Huizen said Malaysia tried to play their normal game, the fact that they won no penalty corners and had five shots on goal - one of which hit the bar - was the summary of their performance.
Malaysia play Canada today in the seventh-eighth classification and return on Saturday to start preparing for the Asian Games.
It will be a preparation filled with anxiety as the MHF target will hover like a dark cloud over a squad that can't claim to be world class, not after losing three of the four matches played in the Commonwealth Games.
"MHF has set a gold medal target as it would mean automatic qualification to the Olympics. I understand and accept that but the reality is that we are facing the possibility of not even making the Asian Games semi-finals.
"New Delhi went according to the world rankings as we were the fourth highest team in the group and we finished fourth in the group. We were hoping for upsets over India and Pakistan but both didn't materialise.
"We have Korea and China in our group and the match against China, especially, will be crucial. If we advance to the semi-finals, it will be either India or Pakistan so to talk about the gold would be premature.
"I accept, however, that we have to make the semi-finals as that is within reach."
Whether that will satisfy MHF is another thing altogether but had the decision makers been here, they would also have realised that setting targets is one but having quality is another issue altogether.