MALAYSIAN hockey never had it so good, as not only did the juniors achieve both their targets, but also did it in style to lift the Junior Asia Cup title in Malacca.
Four Asian hockey powerhouses were side-stepped with ease as coach K. Dharmaraj’s charges qualified for the Junior World Cup, and then snatched the gold from the jaws of a snapping Pakistan.
Iran (6-1), Japan (3-1), South Korea (6-3), India (2-0) and Pakistan (2-1) was the impressive wins earned by a team which was formed in 2009.
Since the tournament was incepted in 1987, only three teams had laid their hands on the title -- until Sunday that is.
Pakistan have three under their belts starting with the inaugural in 1987, followed by 1992 and their hat-trick in 1996; then South Korea won one in 2000; while India were the dominant force in 2004 and 2008.
The 7,000-odd fans who thronged the MBM Stadium in Malacca for the final went home singing praises, but there were some who wondered what next?
The voices of joy also went one step further to suggest that instead of the seniors, this team should be fielded for the Azlan Shah Cup on May 25 to June 3 in Ipoh.
The seven-team invitation will have six Olympic teams in India, Pakistan, South Korea, Argentina, Britain and New Zealand.
“This win by the juniors has certainly lifted our standard in Asia and it was made possible with good team-work from the coaching, management, parent body and the National Sports Council.
“Hard work for the past three years has worked wonders to produce talented players, and now I am also looking at a bigger pool of junior trainees for the Azlan Shah Cup,” said seniors coach Tai Beng Hai.
Beng Hai already had five of the players in his Road to London programme which ended with failure at the Dublin Olympic Qualifier.
“I now plan to have a bigger pool of juniors in the Azlan Shah Cup training squad and will consult the junior team management and coaches to see who is available and also injury free.
“I have a handful of injured players as well as those who can’t get leave from their studies, and if the juniors can fit into their positions, it would be good for hockey in the country on the long run for them to play against Olympic sides,” said Beng Hai.
Malaysia also grabbed the lion’s share in honours as Kavin Kartik was named as Man of the Final, the top-scorers award was shared by Korea’s yang Jihun and Faizal Saari on six goals.
Malaysian goalkeeper Hazrul Faiz was the Best Goal keeper, as well as Player-of-the-Tournament.
Hazrul’s double is a rarity as goalkeepers are rarely honoured with the best players award.
However, the downside of this team is that six of them including both the penalty corner flickers Faizal and skipper Nor Faez Ibrahim as well as Izat Sumantri, Amir Farid, Mohamed Ramadan and Dedi Aryandi will be overage for the Junior World Cup in New Delhi in November.
And replacements should have been scouted from the 2017 side yesterday, as tomorrow would be too late if we want to make an impact on the junior world stage next.
Beng Hai should also at least field eight from the junior squad for the Azlan Shah Cup, as exposure is all that it will offer for Malaysia while the other six teams warm-up for Olympic honours.