TWENTY-SIX Project 2013 players will be involved in the Junior Hockey League (JHL) Overall title final at the Tun Razak Stadium in Kuala Lumpur today.
And who better to know their strengths and weaknesses, than Project 2013 coach K. Dharmaraj.
Bandar Penawar Sports School (BPSS) have 11 while UniKL have 15 Project players in the JHL final today.
UniKL sealed the League title narrowly on a four-goal margin over BPSS after both sides ended tied on 25 points, and their earlier clash ended in a 1-1 draw.
“If one looks back to the Myanmar Asia Cup Under-18 tournament (where Malaysia ended second behind Pakistan in 2009), UniKL only have two while BPSS have eight players from the silver medal winning side.
“However, out of the 15 Project players in UniKL, none of them were first choice material in the Under-18 tournament, while out of the 11 in BPSS, eight were core players in Myanmar,” reminded Dharmaraj.
But the 15 in UniKL have shown great determination, and marked improvement in the JHL.
“The strong point for UniKL is that all their players are of the same standard, and that makes their bench strong for substitution without breaking the match rhythm.
“As for BPSS, their eight Project players are of higher standard than the rest, and this could pose a problem when the coach decides to rest some of them. The bench is BPSS’ biggest weakness,” said Dharmaraj.
The coach, who will select the best to play in the World Cup Qualifier to be held in Malacca next May, predicts that penalty corners could well seal the match inside of 70 minutes.
“UniKL defender Zulhairi Hashim has really bloomed in the JHL and is the leading scorer with 17 penalty corner goals in 10 matches. He is a hitter, not a flicker when training with the Project side.
“On the other side, BPSS’ Shahril Saabah (14 goals) and Firhan Ashaari (10 goals, and played in the Azlan Shah Cup) could well turn the tide for the sports school.
“I predict a close final, and the winner would be decided in 70 minutes of play,” said Dharmaraj.
As for Zulhairi: “I have scored in all matches except against BPSS-Thunderbolt in the league. The team were banking on me to score then, but I failed to do so.
“The match ended in a 1-1 draw. Fortunately, we had the better goal difference than them to lift the Division One title for the first time.”
Zulhairi, who scored only three goals for UniKL last year, said that he was putting extra effort in training on his execution of the penalty corner drag flicks and hoped to get it right in the final.
“This is my last outing in the junior league and I want it to be a memorable one. I want to score in the final to help UniKL win the double for the first time,” he said.