Friday, June 19, 2009

Germany and Netherlands final

RESULTS -- Semi-finals: Australia 2 Germany 2 (Germany win with sudden-death goal), Netherlands 4 New Zealand 1; Fifth-Sixth: Argentina 1 Pakistan 4; Seventh-Eigtht: Spain 3 South Korea 4; 15th-16th: England 2 South Africa 2 (South Africa win 6-5 on penalty strokes).

SATURDAY: Nine-10th: India v Poland (8pm, Singapore); 11th-12th: Malaysia v Belgium (5.30pm, Johor); 13th-14th: Japan v Egypt (5pm, Singapore); 17th-18th: Russia v Chile (8pm, Johor).

Malaysia must beat Belgium at any cost

MALAYSIA, despite not enjoying home ground advantage four years ago, finished 10th in the Junior World Cup.
This time around, despite the backing of capacity crowds at the Taman Daya Stadium, the best Malaysia can hope for is 11th -- that too if they beat Belgium tomorrow -- but coach K. Rajan believes the team haven't failed.

He points to the fact that Malaysia have lost only two matches -- 2-0 against South Korea and 2-1 against Poland -- and believes the future isn't necessarily bleak.

"This indicates that the gap between junior teams around the world is not that big, so we need to start grooming our Under-16 boys from today if we want to remain competitive in the next World Cup," said Rajan.

That is especially true for Asian hockey as South Korea, India, Pakistan and Japan all missed the semi-finals, while European and Oceania teams are within touching distance of the trophy.
What action Malaysia will take for the next edition will only be known in the coming days but for the moment, they have to face Belgium without Faizal Shaari, easily Malaysia's best player in the tournament.

Scorer of eight of Malaysia's 15 goals, Faizal is suspended after picking up a third yellow card against Egypt on Wednesday.

"We will miss Faizal as he has scored more than 50 per cent of our goals, and it will make it that much harder against Belgium.

"However, I have my strategy and if the plan is followed on the pitch, we will finish 11th." Belgium have also lost only twice -- 3-0 against Argentina and 4-0 against India -- and their biggest win was a 6-2 drubbing of Japan. They also beat Pakistan 2-1.

"Belgium have proven themselves to be a stubborn team but my players have learnt from playing against other equally stubborn sides like Poland and Egypt. We will have to adapt fast, strike early and finish the match as winners inside 70 minutes," said Rajan.

Double target for Kiwis

NEW ZEALAND will be looking to shoot down two targets when they take on the Netherlands in the Junior World Cup hockey semi-finals today -- to end their country's 33-year wait for a major title and repay the faith of the players' parents.

New Zealand's last major title was when they shocked the world to win the 1976 Montreal Olympics gold, which has since been followed by years of mediocrity.

Their appearance in the Junior World Cup semi-finals, already a pleasant surprise, has been made all the more impressive by the fact that the players -- thanks to the parents -- paid their own way to compete.

Each player had to fork out NZ$4,000 (about RM8,800) and there were no extended periods of centralised training and friendly matches.

"Yes, parents paid the way and the boys have clicked well even though we did not have time to train back home.
"I don't want to dwell on that, as we are here to enjoy hockey," said coach Peter Miskimmin in Singapore yesterday.

The New Zealand Hockey Federation, however, did congratulate the team when they made the semi-finals.

"No, they never said anything about reimbursing the boys. However, it is not a priority as we still have two matches to play," said Miskimmin.

This is enough to get the neutrals rooting for New Zealand but they know the Netherlands, despite also not having won the Junior World Cup , will be tough opposition.

The Dutch are a force at the senior level and with the World Cup next year, players will be looking to prove their worth to the selectors.

Dutch coach Paul van Ass tried to downplay suggestions that his side are the favourites to advance.

"The Dutch have a problem -- we have been favourites all our lives (in junior hockey) but have never won a single title."

Van Ass said he, too, did not have the luxury of sound preparation.

"It has been a difficult tournament for us as I didn't have enough time to train the players as they had examinations and then the European Hockey League (EHL).

"Even though we beat Singapore 8-0 in the opening match, I wasn't happy as we did not have a solid structure.

"Credit, however, must be given to the players as they have improved and we are now in the hunt for a medal," said van Ass.

If the New Zealand-Netherlands tie is between teams who have never won the title before, the Germany-Australia semi-final is between former champions.

Germany won the title in 1982, 1985, 1989 and 1993 while Australia were champions in 1997 and runners-up in 2005.

Whatever happens, German coach Uli Forstner -- who has been at the helm since the 2001 Junior World Cup, will retire.

"We have reached this far and the players want to go the full distance and win the trophy. However, I would like to announce that whatever happens, I am calling it a day as far as coaching is concerned," said Forstner.

The German also lamented the lack of preparation and this spells good news for Australia, easily the best prepared team in the tournament.

And with New Zealand looking to prove a point, it could well mean an Oceania final come Sunday.