Saturday, May 12, 2012

Looking for first gold in 25 years...

UMAR BHUTTA'S (pic left) mature approach will have to be stopped if Malaysia want their first Junior Asia Cup gold medal.

THE Junior Asia Cup final in Malacca today is set to be a  highly entertaining affair, as Malaysia look for their first gold  medal in 25 years, while Pakistan their fourth.
    The imbalance is glaring, and the last time Malaysia played  in the final was also 20 years ago in Ipoh, where they lost 3- 0 to Pakistan.
    Pakistan won the first edition in 1987 on home soil in Karachi and nailed  their hat-trick in 1992 in Ipoh and 1996 in Singapore.
    However, this set of Malaysian players have shown tremendous potential, and their almost flawless attacking hockey  has only marred by their habit of missing sitters in the  previous four matches.
    “We have everything going for us in Malacca, except that I  have yet to get the best out of three players and hopefully they  perform in the final,” said Malaysian coach K. Dharmaraj.
   Fitri Saari, Izzat Sumantri and Ramadhan Rosli were at  their element in the Sultan of Johor Cup, but have been in the  shadows in Malacca.
    “Fitri was my best player in Johor, while Izzat and  Ramadhan were also in top flight when we won the gold  medal (beating Australia 3-2).
    “But even though we have comfortably won all out matches  here, I have yet to see these three players show their true  potential,” said Dharmaraj.
    However, the coach has been encouraging the boys to open  up their game, and hopes they will be at their best in the  crucial match today.
     “I never had all my players giving their best in any of the  four matches so far, as this is a norm in any team sport. So  hopefully, the encouragement that the team management  has given the players for the last two days will bring out the  best in at least 70 per cent of my players and the tide will be  in our favour,” said Dharmaraj.
     As for Pakistan, the most feared in their pack is Umar  Bhutta, who is only 20, but already has 38 senior caps.
     “Umar was the named as the best player in the Under-18  AHF Cup in 2009 and has played in two Azlan Shah Cups as  well as the Champions Trophy.
     “He was the crucial cog in demolishing South Korea (6-1 in  the semi-finals) and will have to be marked out to make sure  the title lands in our hands,” said Dharmaraj.
      Pakistan coach Rana Mujahid feels Malaysia are strong but  not invincible.
     “We have respect for the hosts, but I believe we will win our  fourth title going by the performance of the team in the semi- finals. They played total hockey, with very little pressure on  their shoulders, and that’s how it is going to be against  Malaysian in the final,” said Rana.
     Rana’s confidence stems from the pact that five of his  charges have already played at the Champions Trophy  level.
     They are Kashif Shah, Ali Shan, Tousiq Ahmed, Muham mad Rizwan and of course their balding skipper Umar.

   RESULTS: Seventh-Eighth: Iran 1 Sri Lanka 1 (Iran win 2-1 extra-time goal); Fifth- Sixth:  Japan x South Korea x.
   SUNDAY: Final: Malaysia v Pakistan (8pm); Third-Fourth:  India v South Korea (5pm).