MALAYSIA did just enough to beat France 4-1 and qualify for the fifth-sixth playoff in the World League Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium yesterday.
It was a much-needed life-line, as now Malaysia need to beat Ireland Sunday to finish fifth and qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. For the record, Malaysia beat Ireland 4-2 in Group A.
Tai Beng Hai's men held the edge in the first quarter, but poor finishing saw them end goalless as well as not a single penalty corner to show.
The French kept their cool in scorching heat, and it looked like they were waiting for Malaysia to fall apart in the last two quarters like they did against Belgium, Britain and India.
And it happened three minutes into the second quarter, immediately after Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin picked up a green card for a stupid tackle from behind, France took the lead when Jean-Laurent Kieffer deflected in.
Malaysia, under pressure, played better when they immediately mounted an attack, and after a pin-ball moment in the semi-circle, Haziq Shamsul scored a cracker in the 19th minute.
It was Haziq's third goal of the tournament, and he is only 21-years-old and eligible to play in the Junior Asia Cup which is a qualifier for the Junior World Cup.
It was a hot and sunny day in Antwerp, with the Malaysian flag fluttering proudly in windy conditions, as Malaysia battled the French for a final Olympic fling.
At the half-time break, Malaysia played much better than the French, who beat us 3-2 the last encounter at the 2014 Champions Challenge in Kuantan.
Meor Azuan, 20-years-old, finally gave Malaysia a little breathing space when he connected home a cross in the 37th minute.
Meor is another junior who can play in the Kuantan Junior Asia Cup, and will start training with coach Arul Selvaraj when he returns home wiser from this tournament.
Faizal Shaari delivered the third off Malaysia's fourth penalty corner, and with 13 minutes remaining, Malaysia were ready to play Ireland in the fifth-sixth playoff.
And in the 57th minute, Faizal was brought down by goalkeeper Martin Zylbermann and a penalty stroke was awarded. Razie stepped up and scored the fourth and it was plain sailing into the fifth-sixth.
Meanwhile, Pakistan lost 1-0 in the other classification match, and will miss the Olympics for the first time since making their debut in 1948 in London.
And it was a 46th minute penalty corner goal by Alan Sothern which relegated Pakistan to the 7th-8th classification match against France on Sunday.
"This is a dark day for Pakistan," said player Rashid Mehmood as he left the pitch with his head bowed down.
Ireland, ranked 14th, thrashed Pakistan's No 10 seeding with determination, and nothing else.
RESULTS: Semi-finals: India x Belgium x, Australia x Briaain x; Fifth-Eighth: Malaysia x France x, Ireland 1 Pakistan 0.
SUNDAY: Fifth-Sixth: Malaysia v Ireland (7pm, Malaysian time).