Monday, October 11, 2010

Singh is King

Elegant: Sandeep Singh (extreme right) was one of the major architects of the Indian hockey team's stunning performance against Pakistan on Sunday. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Malaysian women wooden-spoonist

THE Malaysian women’s hockey team, suffered their worst humiliation when they lost to Trinidad & Tobago to finish last in the 10-team tournament.
Blair Wynne gave Trinidad & Tobago the lead in the 48th minute, but Fazilla Sylvester equalised in the 57th minute.
However, Stacey-Ann Siu Butt sealed victory for her country in the 69th minute.
Malaysia started off well in the tournament with a 3-2 upset of Canada, but then lost 2-1 to Wales and 3-0 to England.

The heat on Aussies...

THREE_TIME winners Australia will be tested not only by a steely New Zealand, but also by extreme heat when they play the first semi-final of the Commonwealth Games hockey here on Tuesday.
The match is scheduled at 1100 hours (0530 GMT) when the sun reaches its peak, which means the endurance power of the players will be on the line more than their skill with the stick.
The other semi-final between hosts India and England will be played in more tolerable conditions in the evening.
Australia coach Ric Charlesworth was left fuming at the scheduling.
“I just think that’s crazy, but nobody cares about what the players think or the coaches,” he said after Australia struggled in the heat in pulling off a 1-0 win over Pakistan on Saturday.
Other than the weather, Australia have not much to worry about.
They won all their four league matches, conceding just two goals — both to India — and scoring 22 in all.
The form of players like Luke Doerner (six goals) has also been a great plus for the world champions, looking to seal their fourth gold after having finished on top in the three previous editions.
New Zealand, who have yet to win a medal in the Games since the sport was introduced in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, have nothing to lose going into the tie.
“You will see the best hockey coming out of these guys in the next two games,” Black Sticks coach Shane McLeod said.
“The guys in their minds realise they have nothing to lose. They will be even more diligent in the execution of the game plan. They want to perform well and Australia demand that type of game from you as well.” “You’ve seen that with every game Australia has played. Their opposition has played very well. They’ve been smashed, but they’ve played well.” India go into their semi-final tie drained by their exhilirating 7-4 win over arch-rivals Pakistan on Sunday.
The build-up to the marquee game and the way it unfolded left Jose Brasa’s men exhausted but they would be wise to realise that a medal is still to be won.
“We have crossed the Pakistan hurdle, now we are ready for anyone,” said striker Shivendra Singh.
“We know we have never won a medal in the Commonwealth Games. That target is top-most on our minds now.” England, who beat South Africa 2-1 to qualify for the semis, will be looking forward to the India match with trepidation after the way a crowd of 19,000 rooted for their home team on Sunday night.
“It is phenomenal to see the crowds here,” said in-form striker James Tindall who has starred for England in the tournament so far with four goals.
“You have the best atmosphere when the crowds are in. When India is playing, obviously they will be cheered. The key for the opposition is not to get bogged down.”

Elect the best for next 4 years

By Vijesh Rai

THE Malaysian Hockey Federation is gripped by election fever and the outcome of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games may not have made a significant impact on its office bearers and states.
With the next MHF council, following amendments to its constitution, set to rule for a four-year term following the Oct 31 elections, campaigning is important for losing would mean four years in the wilderness.
The candidates, however, must be mindful of the need to close ranks - irrespective of which camps get a bigger slice of the pie in the council - for the Commonwealth Games have shown that Malaysia will not win gold in the Asian Games next month.
That would mean having to play in the Olympic qualifier in early 2012 and MHF must not wait for the conclusion of the Asian Games before starting to plan on how to make it to London.
Failure to qualify for London would mean having missed three consecutive Olympics and this could well be a blow that Malaysian hockey will never recover from.
Stephen Van Huizen, no doubt set to be the target of snipers following the New Delhi episode, has left his fate in the hands of MHF but the association will do well to listen to what he has to say.
"We will only have about 15-16 months to prepare for the Olympic qualifier if we don't win gold in the Asian Games and we must start preparing immediately," said Van Huizen.
Key decisions have to be made - be it with the coaching personnel or the players - as some seniors will have to start making way for those coming through the ranks.
That is another area MHF has to look at and it has to be honest about the quality of players in the junior ranks and whether they are capable of shouldering the burden of mounting Malaysia's 2012 Olympics campaign.
MHF has the 2013 Junior World Cup programme running while 1Mas offers hope for the future but it is the next two years that need to be sorted out first.
Finger pointing isn't going to help for we would only have been kidding ourselves if we really thought Asian Games gold would be won when, even when Malaysian hockey was at its peak, bronze was the best ever achieved.
Today's Malaysian players are nowhere near the class of their predecessors and MHF has to seriously reconsider the full-time training concept currently practiced.
The squad lacks for nothing when it comes to training and exposure but playing friendlies, as what the squad did prior to New Delhi, isn't going to hone their competitive edge.
Neither is playing in the Malaysian Hockey League, which is in all honesty a competition between current, former and social players.
The players must be sent abroad to play in the European leagues and this is something which MHF president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah shouldn't face a problem in realising.
Malaysian hockey players can, unlike their footballing counterparts, get playing contracts in Europe and this is one route that has to be taken before the rot worsens.
Cynics will say it has already reached rock bottom but, despite the results in New Delhi, isn't the case yet but it will be if MHF doesn't start planning now for the 2012 Olympics.

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.

Madonna on song

Captain Madonna Blyth scored the winner as defending champions Australia downed a fighting England 1-0 on Monday to make it to the final of the Commonwealth Games women’s hockey.
Australia, ranked number six to England’s five, will meet the winner of the second semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa to be played later in the day.
Both teams seemed to be going through the motions in a goal-less first half as they struggled to come to terms with the stifling heat at the Major Dhyan Chand stadium.
The heat will be a major factor in Wednesday’s final with the game set for an afternoon start.
“The final will be played at one in the afternoon,” said Australian midfielder Kate Hollywood after her team’s success had left their beaten English opponents in tears.
“It is prime time for us. It suits us the most. I think we have played all our games in mid-afternoon. So we are used to it now. Our opponents will be suffering more.
“It was tough to play England today in this heat. We fought it out and protected our lead. In fact, we had practised protecting our lead, especially in this sort of heat.
“For us, it is about winning the gold and not the silver. We will come out firing in the final. We do not care who we play, we are ready for anyone.” England earned the first penalty corner of the match two minutes from the breather and another one a minute later but failed to convert either with Aussie goal-keeper Rachael Lynch up to the task.
Australia were lucky to get their only goal when Blyth’s strike hit the stick of a team-mate and stumbled into the goal in the 38th minute.
England had no such luck though with striker Nicola White missing the chance to score from a close range inside the ’D’ in the 43rd minute.
England, the World Cup bronze medallists and the highest ranked team in the competition, were also frustrated by a dogged show from the Australian defenders, led by an alert Casey Eastham.
The entire England team sunk down to their knees just as the final hooter went off with many of the players in tears.
England defender Crista Cullen said the team was heartbroken.
“We feel completely gutted,” she said. “We had our opportunities but didn’t convert them early on.
“We had 90 percent of the possession and were all over them, but they got a scrappy goal and defended it with their lives. We outplayed them in every way.
We were better than them. It’s so frustrating.” England have never won the Commonwealth Games gold, although they have two silver and a bronze from three editions.

Sandeep makes it count

Sandeep Singh starred as India trounced arch-rivals Pakistan 7-4 in a high-scoring thriller on Sunday to storm into the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games hockey.
Faced with the prospect of elimination before the knock-out rounds, India responded with a resounding display before some 19,000 delirious home fans at the Major Dhyan Chand stadium.
The hosts finished with nine points to finish second in Pool A behind world champions Australia and will now take on England in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
India’s coach Jose Brasa praised the part played by the crowd.
“All credit to the crowd,” he said. “Their support was tremendous, something I have never seen before in any match. But we haven’t won anything yet, so it will be good if the boys do not lose sight of this fact.
“We did lose a little bit of our momentum when they scored two quick goals but we regrouped after the break. We are glad that in the end we made the Indian public happy.” Pakistan striker Rehan Butt said the young players in the team could not stand the pressure of facing India on their home ground.
“The young boys could not handle the pressure of playing a big match against India,” he said.
“They could not handle the pressure that comes from playing before a huge crowd. Also, we did not play to our potential.” Sandeep launched a relentless attack on the Pakistan defence, scoring India’s first two goals to put early pressure and set up his team-mates twice with his accurate passing.
Sandeep found an able partner in striker Shivendra Singh who hit a brace in the fast-paced encounter.
The Indians started off aggressively, forcing a slew of penalty corners inside the first 25 minutes. The first was converted by Sandeep with a searing drag-flick that hit the left corner of the goal but he missed the second.
Sandeep was off target the third time as well but made amends when he converted the fourth penalty in the 11th minute to bring the house down with cheers of ’India, India’.
Sandeep set up India’s third goal when his cross pass from the right was deflected in by Shivendra Singh, making it 3-0 for India.
Striker Sarvanjit Singh then converted India’s fifth penalty corner off a rebound after a Sandeep strike in the 20th minute.
Pakistan finally managed to pull one back off a penalty stroke which was converted by Muhammad Imran in the 27th before Muhammad Rizwan made it 4-2 with a field goal that evoked a collective groan from the home fans.
India dominated the second-half as well with Danish Mujtaba swatting in one in the 41st minute and Dharamvir Singh using a scoop shot that flew over the goalkeeper’s head.
Pakistan’s third goal came off the stick of Muhammad Irfan but India got another just one minute later when captain Rajpal Singh dodged several defenders to give a pass to Shivendra who slotted home neatly (7-3).
Pakistan managed one more goal through veteran Shakeel Abbasi but it was too late in the day to make amends for their earlier lapses.
This was India’s third win in a year over their bitter rivals after their 4-1 triumph in the World Cup at this same venue in February and a 4-2 victory in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in May.