Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Now, coach Tai Beng Hai's men must beat New Zealand, who were shocked 1-1 by Egypt, to book a berth in the final.
Malaysia and India were contended with playing slow hockey, until the duck was broken in the 20th minute.
India won their second penalty corner, but the stopper could not handle the push, and the ball bounced akwardly towards Arjun Halappa, whose hit went in, but did not sound the board.
Egypt umpire Sayed Ab Del first blew for no-goal, but when India protested, stopped the match and consulted co-umpire Gareth Greenfield of New Zealand.
After a brief discussion, Sayed changed his mind and blew for goal instead.
India were not deadly in attack, but did just enough to win another penalty corner in the 31st minute, and Sandip Singh's direct flick found its target and it was 2-0 India at half-time.
Mistakes crept into the Malaysian game after the restart, as they lost almost every third pass to the Indians, who looked contented with the lead, defended in numbers, and only made ocassional frays.
Whenever Malaysia attacked, all 11 India players crammed their own semi-circle, but still, no penalty corners were won because of stout defending.
And in the 62nd minute, Gurinder Chandi delt another blow for Malaysia with a field goal, and with time not on their side, Malaysia lost their first match and must now beat the Kiwis if they want to play in the final.
Meanwhile Egypt cemented the fact that their 21st ranking in the world means nothing when they held No 7 New Zealand to a 1-1 draw yesterday.
Egypt took the lead with a feld goal from Ahmed El Hakeim in the 38th minute, while the Kiwis struggled to find the equaliser which they finally nailed in the 51st minute off Steven Edwards.
Egypt 1 New Zealand 1, India 3 Malaysia 0
P W D L F A Pts
MALAYSIA 3 2 0 1 7 6 6
INDIA 2 1 1 0 5 2 4
NEW ZEALAND 2 1 1 0 4 3 4
EGYPT 3 0 2 1 4 7 2
PAKISTAN 2 0 0 2 4 6 0
April 9: New Zealand v India (5pm), Pakistan v Egypt (7pm).
April 10: REST DAY.
April 11: India v Pakistan (5pm), New Zealand v Malaysia (7pm); April 12: Third-Fourth (4.30pm), Final: (7pm).
WHEN Engku Malek slammed home the second goal for Malaysia in the 4-1 win against Egypt on Monday, his wife was in labour expecting their second child.
The gutsy defender, who made his mark in the 2005 Junior World Cup,will be in the line-up against India today.
"Engku Malek is in Kuala Lumpur now with his family, but he told me he wants to play against India and will be back by tonight (last night)," said Malaysian team manager George Koshy.
The line-up against India will be the same as in the previous two matches, as none of the players picked up injuries.
"This tournament has shown that the players are ready fitness-wise, as when we substitute, there is no drop in standard of play, and there is a smooth transition as everyone on the team is about the same level now."
George, president of the Kuala Lumpur HA and the man behind the success of Ernst & Young in the Malaysia Hockey League, however, feels there are still lapses which need to be looked into.
"The team have shown consistency for long periods, but momentary lapses have let in three soft goals (two against Pakistan and one against Egypt).
"This is the area which needs urgent attention, as we prepare for the Asia Cup," said George.
India will be banking on drag-flicker Sandip Singh to do the damage, but Malaysia have fast first runners, and the feeling is that the national team will qualify for the final with a match against New Zealand in hand.
THE question everyone asking is has the Malaysian team peaked too soon and at the wrong tournament, with the Asia Cup starting on May 9 in Kuantan.
With 3-2 and 4-1 wins over Pakistan and Egypt respectively in the bag, coach Tai Beng Hai said there is no hard and fast belief to peaking too early.
"The wins are good indicators that training for the past three months has benefited the players, and we are slowly progressing to the desired goal, which is the Asia Cup. Peaking too early is not the case here, as there is still ample room for progress," said Beng Hai.
Of Malaysia's seven goals to date, five have come from penalty corners while two were field attempts.
And the coach said the team have more penalty corner variations up their sleeves.
"I am testing the penalty corner battery by using variations, and in the remaining matches we will test other set-pieces. The Azlan Shah Cup is a timely tournament to prepare Malaysia for the Asia Cup," said Beng Hai.
The Asia Cup offers only one ticket to the 2010 New Delhi World Cup with the losers having to go through other qualifiers. Malaysia are in Group A with Japan, South Korea and Oman, while Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and China make up the other group.
The top two teams advance to the semi-finals which means Malaysia will have to beat either India or Pakistan to make the final. Both India and Pakistan are having a nightmarish Azlan Shah Cup with India being held 2-2 by Egypt, and Pakistan losing to Malaysia and New Zeland with identical 3-2 scores.
However, coaches of both teams remain unfazed as their end goal is also the Asia Cup. India, as hosts, have qualified while Pakistan will recall four veterans including drag-flicker Sohail Abbas for their Asia Cup campaign.
So, even though the next two matches against India today and New Zealand on Saturday will show if Malaysia have what it takes to qualify for the final, Beng Hai will nonetheless be using the matches to juggle his players, and try out new methods with an eye to snatching the Asia Cup gold.