KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia played the waiting game on rest day in the Asian Champions Trophy in Donghae, South Korea, Friday while coach K. Dharmaraj pondered about the future of his charges.
The Malaysian women's hockey team has closed the gap with their Asian counterparts and are no longer punching bags for India, China, South Korea and Japan.
Dharmaraj's charges, ranked 22nd in the world and fifth in Asia, gave a tough fight to all four teams in the ongoing ACT, and if China beats Japan Saturday -- Malaysia will play for the bronze medal.
India and South Korea have qualified for the finals.
Malaysia started with 3-1 defeat to South Korea, lost to India 3-2, beat Japan 3-2 and lost to China 3-1.
"The margin of defeat is very close and I believe we have narrowed the gap with our Asian counterparts. Everybody here, India, China, Korea and Japan coaches feel we are the team to watch after being 'whipping boys' for more than 20 years," said Dharmaraj.
And all the teams have brought their best players: "Every team here came with their World Cup squad except Japan who have three players in the Netherlands League and another five back home.
"In 2016 ACT we also beat Japan who brought their full squad, and this indicated consistency."
The Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) Thursday announced that they are planning to bid for the 2022 women's and men's World Cups and Dharmaraj embraced the news with open arms.
Infact, the coach who had rebuilt the women's squad from ashes inside two-and-a-half years even said that his charges could be groomed to finish 7th or 8th if Malaysia host it in 2022.
"It's easier to move up in women's hockey than the men's and if we get to host the 2022 World Cup, it would be dream come true for our ladies (who have yet to play at that level).
"That is the right booost for us to prepare for the next four years instead of going through the pressure of trying to qualify.
"With proper planning, we can finish 7th or 8th as hosts," said Dharmaraj.
This prediction came from a coach who trained a bunch of no hopers, and took them to a silver medal finish at the Kuala Lumpur World League Round Two last year.