By Devinder Singh
INCHEON: Thoughts turned towards Pakistan after Malaysia overcame a potential banana skin to beat Japan 4-1 yesterday and qualify for the Asian Games men's hockey semi-finals.
Malaysia lost 2-0 to Pakistan in the 2010 final in Guangzhou but will have the weight of history against them, having beaten Pakistan just twice in their last eight competitive meetings and just once in 15 Asian Games clashes.
Pakistan, who beat India 2-1 earlier in the week, topped Group B while Malaysia were runners-up to South Korea in Group A after a dominating display against Japan at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium.
“I think we played better today than other matches, so we ended up winning this match," said captain Razie Rahim, who scored twice to take his tally for the tournament to seven goals.
"Pakistan are a better team and we must do better and reduce our mistakes. we've got to start to plan and prepare for Pakistan."
Malaysia opened scoring with their first attempt at goal through Firhan Ashari in the second minute but Japan equalised off a penalty corner by Toshiro Tachibana 14 minutes later.
Up stepped Razie to slam in two penalty corners of his own in the 20th and 39th minutes before Izwan Firdaus Ahmad Tajuddin wrapped it up in the 42nd.
Coach Arul Selvaraj was pleased that his team finally responded to the way he wanted them to play.
"We had very good game as a team. I ordered the players to think about their responsibility to win as a team," said Arul, who had the unenviable task of lifting spirits after a horrible Commonwealth Games campaign.
"The players followed my instructions very well. They did what they have to do. Fortunately, we won."
"When I took over this team, there were two things I was looking for when selecting players.
"First was the emotional willingness to be in a team. I selected players who wanted to be one as a team.
"Second point was individual skills. We wanted 'sixteen players' as a team, not 'fifteen players plus one' team."
"I stressed on maintaining a winning attitude and on positioning. I want to believe that Malaysia's system and formation was a strength to win the game.
"Also, we had good ball control today. We did very well on penalty corners, especially Razie who did brilliant work. He showed amazing ability to score twice."