THE Malaysian hockey team will be battling for either cheers or tears when they square off against India in the quarter-finals of the Champions Challenge I in Johannesburg, South Africa, today.
After a pathetic show in Group B, where Malaysia lost 3-1 to Canada, drew 2-2 with Japan and were smashed 5-2 by Argentina, the tournament fixtures were still kind enough to give the national players their last life-line.
If they win, a place among the top-four await them, and a defeat will see them struggling in the fifth-eight bracket.
India have been in smashing form in this tournament, and scored a total of 17 goals in their 3-3 draw against Belgium, and 7-4 and 7-0 wins against South Africa and Poland respectively.
However, in the last two meetings, Malaysia have a good record against India. The national players beat India 4-3 in the semi-finals of the Asian Games, and drew 2-2 in the Asian Champions Trophy in Ordos.
But the national players form in three matches in South Africa is cause to worry, as they played a game of contrasting halves in all three matches.
Even Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah is perplexed with their drastic drop in form.
"Our performance so far has been below par. The team is capable of playing much better hockey.
"After watching the team play, I noticed that there are some weak links. I did not want to highlight this issue but I have spoken to the coach and he will address this issues.
"On the issue of consistency, the coach will have a look into it seriously as the Olympic Qualifier is in March and we have the Azlan Shah Cup in February. The team management is aware of these issue and they have three months to rectify them before the Qualifier," said Tengku Abdullah.
Malaysia have shown previously that they are made of better stuff, and a win against India is just the tonic they need to re-assure their fans that they are capable of snatching the Qualifier gold medal.
P W D L F A Pts
India 3 2 1 0 17 7 7
Belgium 3 2 1 0 12 7 7
S Africa 3 1 0 2 8 10 3
Poland 3 0 0 3 4 17 0
P W D L F A Pts
Argentina 3 2 1 0 10 6 7
Japan 3 1 2 0 6 5 5
Canada 3 1 0 2 6 6 3
Malaysia 3 0 1 2 5 10 1
THURSDAY: Quarter-finals: Belgium v Canada (4pm), Argentina v Poland (6.30pm), India v Malaysia (9pm), Japan v South Africa (11.30pm).
All Malaysia time.