MALAYSIA were a pathetic side but were saved the blushes by goalkeeper S. Kumar, who took them into the final of the World League Round Two by making super saves in the penalty shoot-out at the Sengkang Stadium in Singapore yesterday.
The score stood at 1-1 after the final whistle, and in the shoot-out Malaysia won 3-2 thanks to Kumar, who made three super saves.
The Tampin-born Kumar's heroics also saw Malaysia qualify for the World League Semi-final in Belgium in June, as three tickets are on offer in Singapore.
Marhan Jalil scored an early field goal, by a solo effort in the fifth minute, and the crowd were baying for more Japan blood, but it never came.
Instead, the Japanese grew in confidence and were unlucky not to have won the match in regulation time. Kenta Tanaka equalised in the 15th minute to take the match to a shoot-out.
Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin Missed, Izwan Firdaus missed, but Malaysia were kept in the hunt as Kumar brought out three saves.
Faizal Saari, Firhan Ashaari and Fitri Saari delivered for Malaysia in the shoot-out and now they will play Poland for the gold medal today.
In the other semi-finals, Poland beat Oman 7-1.
"We have achieved the target set by MHC (Malaysian Hockey Confederation) which was to play in the final, and now, we will be after my as well as my players target which is to win gold in this tournament," said Malaysian coach Tai Beng Hai.
Beng Hai rued four attempts which hit the post: "Three penalty corners and a field attempt hit the post and bar, and that made our task much harder. However, we had four easy matches before this and we were brought down to earth in the semi-finals.
"I see this as a blessing before be take on Poland for the gold. We did play Poland in a few friendlies in Bukit Jalil before coming to Singapore, but that was with a different structure, and now the team is playing differently and we will go for the gold," said Beng Hai.
In Kuala Lumpur, Poland drew 4-4 and then won 4-3 in the friendlies, but as the tag applies, it were just friendlies.
Malaysia have played Poland 25 times, won 15 , drew 5 and lost 5. We have scored 61 and conceeded 37 goals. The last encounter was at the 2012 Champions Challenge in Argentina where Malaysia won 4-0.
Japan coach Kang Keon-Wook summed up the match: "Malaysia were unlucky in the four quarters as they hit the post and bar four times, but were lucky that they have a very good goalkeeper in the shoot-out (Kumar).
RESULTS: Semi-finals -- Malaysia 1 Japan 1 (Malaysia win 3-2 in penalty shoot-out); Poland 7 Oman 1.
Sunday...Final: Malaysia v Poland (8pm); Third-Fourth: Japan v Oman (5.30pm); Fifth-Sixth: Bangladesh v Ukraine (3pm); Seventh-Eighth: Singapore v Mexico (9am)