MALAYSIA will be looking to salvage some pride in the Champions Challenge I, when they square off against Poland for the fifth spot in South Africa today.
After a disastrous 5-4 golden goal defeat to India, Malaysia bounced back the very next day to beat Japan 2-1, with both the world class goals scored by 20-year-old Faizal Saari off solo attempts.
And today, Poland will be in their path to achieving their target of finishing fifth, and claiming a spot in the next Champions Challenge I.
Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) general manager Maninderjit Singh confirmed yesterday that the top-five teams will remain in Challenge I, while the bottom three will be relegated to Challenge II.
“We have much more than the target at stake against Poland, as Maninderjit has told us that the team which finishes fifth will remain in the first tier, while three teams will be relegated to the second tier,” said team manager George Koshy.
The last time Malaysia saw Poland playing was in the 2009 Champions Challenge II in Dublin, where the Polish stunned for form-book and became champions.
However, Malaysia and Poland were in different groups: “Basically, Poland has about the same players who gave them the Challenge II gold in Dublin. It is an experienced side but the mood in the Malaysian camp is good, and we should have another winning experience,” said Koshy.
Goalkeeper S. Kumar, normally a steady hand between the posts, admitted that his form against India was among the reasons why Malaysia are not in the semis, but fighting for fifth.
“I haven’t been very consistent in the tournament and I felt so bad against India because the rest of the squad were fantastic. It was a bad day.
“But we’re all feeling a lot better after beating Japan as it would have been a disaster playing off for 7/8th place. They (Japan) are a much improved team and never easy to beat but we wanted to win so badly,” said Kumar on the official Champions Challenge website.
Kumar, with 182 caps, and numerous awards to his name, is ready to help his mates claim the fifth spot.
“We’ve set our sights on finishing fifth and maintaining our world ranking of 14th. We’re definitely a much happier squad today (after beating Japan)!”
RESULTS: Semi-finals -- Argentina 2 Belgium 2 (Belgium win 3-2 shootout); India 4 South Africa 2.
SUNDAY: Fifth-Sixth: Malaysia v Poland (5.30pm); Seventh- Eighth: Canada v Japan (3pm).