IT WAS National Junior’s hockey coach K. Dharmaraj’s birthday yesterday, and he made a wish which his two penalty corner flickers will have to work doubly hard to deliver in the Junior World Cup in New Delhi on Dec 6-16.
Malaysia, the Junior Asia Cup champions, have a fighting chance to progress into the knock-out stages as they have to beat at least two teams from Group D which also has South Africa, New Zealand and England.
And the coach has made his wish: “When I was young, every time when my birthday arrives, my mother would say ’close your eyes and make a wish sincerely and your wish would come true because the angels are listening, but you can’t tell others your wish because it’s secret.’
“I am 44 today (yesterday). I have made my wish, and will have to wait until Dec 16 (one day after the Junior World Cup ends) to see its outcome,” said Dharmaraj.
Defender Zulhairi Hashim and forward Shahril Saabah are the two penalty corner flickers which Malaysia will rely heavily upon to score in New Delhi, and yesterday, they were hard at work with former India international Len Aiyappa.
“I have been working with these players on an off since the beginning of the year and there has been tremendous improvement in their attempts,” said Len at the National Stadium in Buklit Jalil yesterday.
Len was India’s best drag flicker until he retired from national duty following a fallout with the Indian Hockey Federation in 2006 but has been in touch with the sport by representing Italian club side Cernusco from 2008-2012.
Shahril, 19 and from Terengganu, was top-scorer in the Sultan of Johor Cup, when he scored eight goals in six matches.
And Kuala Lumpur-born Zulhairi, 21, scored three goals in three friendly matches against the Indian juniors in New Delhi.
Dharmaraj will name his final squad of 18 on Nov 21: “I already have confirmed 15 players who played in the Sultan of Johor Cup, while the remaining 11 in the training pool will fight for the three spots,” said Dharmaraj.
Malaysia open accounts against New Zealand (Dec 6), then South Africa (Dec 8) and finally England (Dec 9). And they need to finish top-two to qualify for the crossover quar terfinals with Group C opponents.
And Group C has India, Netherlands, South Korea and Canada.