Thursday, March 15, 2012

No lack of support before Korea cruncher

THE Malaysian delegate in full force at the University College Dublin pitch before the start of the Malaysia-South Korea match. Pic by S.S Dhaliwal.

THE Malaysian VIP list in Dublin, Ireland, to support the Malaysain hockey team's Olympic quest is nothing short of impresive.
Sultan Azlan Shah, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, National Sports Council Director General Datuk Zolkples Embong, National Sports Institute CEO Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz, Sports Minister Datuk Sabery Cheek...
And not forgetting the 23 Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHF) office-bearers and a handful of National Sports Council staff who are also here to lend support for hockey's moment of reckoning.
The University College Dublin stadium was teeming with Malaysians at every turn yesterday, as even the Malaysian students studying here have been gripped by the Qualifier fever, and the seating capacity is very small.
The stadium has a capacity of 510 seats, which are covered, while additional 1,000 seats have been added on behind the goalmouth.
It is quite small compared to the stadiums in Malaysia, and that is why all the tickets for the weekend as well as Thursday's matches were sold out.
An Irish fan tweeted: "Have seen it all now. People looking for tickets for an Irish hockey match on bulletin board".
Yes, we have also seen it all, as never in the history of Malaysian hockey, have so many officials left the country's shores to throw their support for any single event sport.

Malaysia in pictures...


All Pictures by FIH

Malaysia in driving seat

MALAYSIA will finally find worthy opponents in the Olympic Qualifiers when they square off in a do-or-die match against the South Koreans at the University Dublin College grounds today.
The national players have done what was expected of them when they beat Chile 5-1, Russia 6-2 and then Ukraine 5-1 in what could be considered as warm-ups before the big Korean test.
They lead the standings on nine points, but that could change like the unpredictable weather in Dublin, as Ireland still have an easy match against Chile on Thursday, while the Koreans another winner against Russia on Saturday.
Korea almost had the better of Ireland in a late match on Tuesday, but were held to a 1-1 draw which opened up the Olympic campaign.
Now Malaysia must beat the Koreans at all cost for 12 points, and then they don't have to worry about the Ireland match, as they would already be in the final with a match in hand.
"We came into the tournament knowing very well that we must beat the Koreans and to have a shot at the Olympics, and the script has not changed.
"The nine points can be considered as a warm-up for the two tough matches, and we still have a few surprises up our sleeves for the remaining matches here," said Malaysian coach Tai Beng Hai.
Malaysia have yet to show their true potential in this tournament, as they have been late starters in all three matches, but did just enough to score a handful for full points.
The fact that we have let in four goals against easy opponents is a point to worry about.
"The Koreans have a more systematic way of playing, and we know them as well as they know us and so the element of surprise could turn out to be a match winner," said Beng Hai.
Malaysia have a strong penalty corner battery with three sound flickers, and have yet to utilise their set-pieces in Dublin.
The Irish used a clever penalty corner set-pice to score against Korea and steal a point, and hopefully, Malaysia does more than that for an outright win against an experienced Korean side.

South Korean jitters...

SOUTH Korean coach Shin Seok Kyo felt butterflies fluttering in his stomach when asked how he rated his next opponents, Malaysia, in the Olympic Qualifiers in Dublin, Ireland.
"Oh! That is a very crucial match for us and I feel tension in my stomach just thinking about it. Malaysia are a very good side, and they have many good strikers who are very fast with the ball," said the coach who recalled three of his Sydney 2000 Olympics team-mates to beef up his squad.
"And I also believe the Malaysian coach is feeling just like me, as that match could make or break our Olympic dreams," said Shin.
Korean skipper Seo Jong-Ho and Yeo Woon Kon have played in three Olympics since making their name in the silver medal winning side in Sydney 2000 where they lost to the Netherlands on penalties.
Coach Shin was a then fullback in the silver medal winning side: "I know Tengku (Ahmad Tajuddin) and Faizal (Saari) are very talented strikers, and at the back Razie (Rahim) is not only a steady defender but also is a strong penalty corner flicker.
"And then, there is Amin (Rahim) who has little playing time in Dublin, but when he comes in, he scores and also controlls the midfield very well.
"Malaysia have three good penalty corner flickers and we have to be careful not to give too many PC's," said the Olympian.
Malaysia have a good recent record against the Koreans as we held them to a 2-2 draw in the 2010 Asian Games, and then beat them 3-1 in the Azlan Shah Cup last year, but the inclusion of the two three-time Olympians has somewhat changed the face of the team and past records would not matter on Thursday.

Arul Selvaraj's Irish calling..

HE has been in Ireland for five years, and holds three jobs, one of which does not pay much, but still, Arul Selvaraj is a happy and contended man.
The former Malaysian international's first love is hockey, so he teaches the sport at a local school, is the caretaker for the Three Rock Rovers Hockey Club and assistant coach to the Ireland national men's team.
There is never a moment in his daily routine when he is far away from the hockey field, as even his house is located at the clubhouse, and he is just a door away from the two artificial pitches.
"It is not easy as I have to juggle three jobs, but hockey is what I love most and so there is never a dull moment in my daily routine," said Arul after Ireland were held to a 1-1 draw by South Korea.
The Rovers HC men's side play in the Irish Hockey League and the women's team compete in the Leinster Senior League Division 1.
But surprisingly, the school and club jobs are the ones that put bread on his table, while being the Ireland assistant coach does not pay much.
"Hockey is certainly a minority sport here as rugby and Gaelic games (Gaelic football, hurling, handball and rounders) are the more preferred choice and is where the money is.
"The Malaysian hockey players and coaches are certainly very lucky because the MHC (Malaysian Hockey Confederation) and the NSC (National Sports Council) gives them a solid backing and money is never a problem.
"Here in Ireland, the players have to fork out much of the money, and if you are selected to the national side, you have to pay Euro 280 to confirm your spot," said Arul.
"Parents and clubs are the ones who are keeping the sport alive here, and if we qualify for the Olympics for the first time (in 104 years) I think, only then, will the sport be recognised here."
The newspapers and television in Ireland only give hockey a passing glance, and the coverage has been anything but poor.
And that is why the Irish players and their Malaysian assistant coach as well as chief coach, South African Paul Revington, are eager to prove a point by snatching the Qualifier gold.