INDIA and Pakistan will play in the final of the Asian Champions Trophy in Orods.
THE national hockey team is getting younger, and finally, boys are seriously challenging positions held by seniors and experienced players.
The healthy competition has resulted in chief coach Tai Beng Hai having a bigger pool to select from, and not just rely on those with a good history in the sport.
The eldest in the squad is goalkeeper Roslan Jamaluddin at 33, while there are a smattering of 18 and 20-year-olds who are already making their moves.
Beng Hai took a big gamble by blooding Project 2013 players Fitri Saari, 18, and Amir Farid, 20, but it paid off handsomely in the Asian Champions Trophy in Orods.
Amir scored against Pakistan, and then his brace against Japan helped Malaysia to reach within grasp of a bronze medal in the inaugural tournament.
“Since the tournament did not offer ranking points, and some of the other teams had also left out their best players for various reasons, I felt that it was a good opportunity to try out new players.
“This also gave seniors who were injured, had personal reasons to skip the tournament, and those who are fighting to keep fit more time to overcome their problems,” said Beng Hai.
Team manager Stephen van Huizen, a former national player and coach, is also impressed with the commitment shown by youth in the squad.
“It was a good decision to allow youth to play in this tournament as some of them started quite shaky, but their confidence level grew quite fast and credit also goes to them for working well with the seniors to take the team into the bronze playoff,” said van Huizen.
Players like Firhan Ashaari, 18, and Faizal Saari, 20, have almost mastered attacking hockey and this will help Malaysia’s cause to finish among the top-four in the South Africa Champions Challenge Nov 26-Dec 4 .
And then, there is the Olympics Qualifier next year, where Malaysia will be fighting for the single ticket to London 2012, probably in the European continent group.
Today, they face Japan again and after narrowly edging them 3-2 in the pool match on Friday, it is expected to be another close call as Japan are one of the hosts for the three Olympic Qualifiers.
“Japan, under their new Korean coach Kang Keong-Wook (who captained Korea to silver medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympics) has shown tremendous improvement in this tour nament.
“However, we have the team to win bronze, and that is what we will aim for,” said van Huizen.
India and Pakistan will play for the gold medal, and after a 2-2 draw in the pool match, it looks like it is going to be another exciting Asian hockey on display in Ordos.
TODAY: Fifth-Sixth: South Korea v China; Third-Fourth: Malaysia v Japan; Final: India v Pakistan.