Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rio a million kilometres away for Malaysia

BY Jugjet Singh

IN these rainy days, this column is not being written to steal the ‘almost there’ thunder from the hockey team, but as an early warning that Malaysia’s chances of qualifying for the Rio de Janerio Olympics have reached the F mark in their fuel tank.
The Asian Games was the best chance for Arul Selvaraj’s men to play in Brazil two years from now, but the few near misses in Incheon might just see Malaysia sit out of the Olympics for 16 years.
For the 0-0 effort in the Asian Games semi-finals was erased when Pakistan won 6-5 in the shoot-out. And even though Malaysia only lost 2-1 in Group A and then 3-2 to South Korea in the bronze classification, there is no reason to celebrate the close shaves.
For, now Malaysia will have to play in the World League Semi-finals, and the early indications are that even South Korea and Pakistan are going to find this route difficult to reach Rio.
Those who claim that there was not enough time to prepare the team should look back and digest this fact — Pakistan didn’t play in any international tournament since November 2013 whereas Malaysia played in the Azlan Shah Cup, Champions Challenge 1, World Cup and Commonwealth Games.
Pakistan also almost did not travel to Incheon, as their troubled association did not have enough cash but somehow managed to string a budget at the 11th hour.
Malaysia, realistically, had been in training for the last two years for the Asian Games and the fourth place finish, as compared to Pakistan’s silver, has turned on the hazard lights.
The route to Rio is wet and slippery, and even Brazil who are now ranked 34th, must move to 30th in the world to be eligible to qualify as hosts.
The Asian Games was one of the five continental championships, and the other four qualifiers to Rio will be gold medallists from Africa, Oceania, Europe and South America.
And assuming Brazil break into the 30th, this will leave only six more spots to the Olympics and three each will be on offer in the two World League Semi-finals.
So Malaysia must finish among the top-four in the World League, and hope some of the continental champions finish higher than them, just like the route to the World Cup where they finished fifth in the qualifier but still made it.
This will be hoping against hope, so the World Cup disaster, the embarrassing Commonwealth Games and the almost there Asian Games must be taken as a challenge to improve and not wait on luck.
For this to happen, the players must have the heart to play like the Pakistan teams. They did not have any international exposure, no money, and almost did not travel to Korea but took home a silver medal at the back of a gold medal in the last Games.
And if the sound of three booming thunders this year does not wake Malaysian hockey up, the forecast is that there will be consistent rain and little sunshine as we slip and fall at every stage for the next decade.