NATIONAL chief coach Arul Selvaraj was all smiles yes terday as Malaysia received a favourable draw for the Asian Games hockey in Incheon, South Korea, on Sept 19-Oct 4.
Silver medallists Malaysia are drawn in Group A with South Korea, Japan, Bangladesh and Singapore.
Pakistan, the defending champions, are with arch-rivals India, Sri Lanka, China and Oman in Group B.
As for the women, Malaysia are in Group A with India, China and Thailand. South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and Hong Kong are in Group B.
The Asian Games could be a turning point in Malaysian hockey as not only will the gold medal take them into the 2016 Rio de Janeiro, but could also change Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) president’s mind from quitting the body.
Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah had announced recently that he will quit the MHC after their Annual General Meeting in November, unless the team wins gold in Korea.
“I am happy with the grouping, and the team will take it as a challenge to give their best and hopefully change Tengku Abdullah’s decision to quit,” said Arul Selvaraj.
And to do that, the team must trade in their 2010 Guangzhou Asiad silver to gold.
The first step would be to finish top-two in Group A, and that means Japan, Bangladesh and Singapore must be beaten at all costs to enter the semis.
And waiting for them in the cross-over would be either India or Pakistan.
But Arul and his men can’t take any team lightly: “We last played Japan in the World League Semi-finals and it ended in a draw and we needed to beat them in the penalty shoot-out to finish fifth.
“Paul Revington and I were the coaches then, and it is still fresh in in mind. So we will not take any team lightly, including Bangladesh and Singapore.”
After finishing last in the World Cup without a single win or draw, Malaysia went on to lose to Trinidad and Tobago 4-2 in the Commonwealth Games.
“I’m happy with the team’s progress (as he took over from K. Dharmaraj recently) and the good news is that forward Firhan Ashaari has recovered from an ankle injury and everybody is giving their best in training.
“As part of the build-up we will head to South Korea on Aug 27 for training as well as playing matches. I will name the final squad of 16 after returning from the trip next month,” said Arul Selvaraj.