MALAYSIA will play South Africa in the quarter-finals of the Champions Challenge I in Buenos Aires, Argentina, today (Thursday 7.30pm Malaysian time).
The national players are in a super run, as they beat all three teams in Group a by four-goal margins. However, the true test begins today, as all eight teams move into the quarter-finals irrespective of their group results.
Only the champion will move into the Champions Trophy bracket.
Malaysia started off by beating Poland 4-0, then South Korea 4-2 and finally Canada 4-2 for nine points. The only other team which ended with nine points in the tournament are hosts Argentina in Group B.
Malaysia didn't need to beat Canada on Tuesday, as they were already assured of the top spot on six points after Poland shocked South Korea 5-4 in an earlier Group A match.
However, Paul Revington's charges kept up the winning momentum with moments of brilliance from goalkeeper S. Kumar to deny the Canadians, and a super solo effort from Fitri Saari in scoring the fourth goal and dousing a fight-back.
Razie Rahim started the goal-count by tucking in a seventh minute penalty stroke, and Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin increased the lead with a field goal in the 11th minute.
Canada pulled one back in the 17th minute when Keegan Pereira fired home, but Malaysia restored their two goal cushion in the 24th minute through a Faizal Saari field attempt.
The Canadians rallied hard towards the end of the first half and could easily have pulled themselves level if not for some outstanding goalkeeping from Kumar.
Canadawere rewarded for their persistence when Matt Guest lashed home a reverse stick shot in the 39th minute and looked liked they were game for a fight.
But the fire was doused by Fitri Saari, With 14 minutes of the match remaining, as he snatched the ball in midfield, drifted past three Canadian defenders before arrowing in a sensational reverse stick shot into the bottom corner.
It was a goal worthy of sealing shut any match.
“My team has only been training together for six or seven weeks, and this is our first official international tournament.
"That’s why it is good for us score four goals in every match again. I’m pleased with my players because playing against Canada is never easy.
"However, even our next opponents South Africa are no pushovers even though they hit a bad patch in the Group stages so we will have to bring out our best again to move into the semis," said Malaysian coach Paul Revington.
Kumar, 32 and 195 caps, believes the team must keep up the winning mentality in the next three knock-out stages.
“We did well three games but have to keep this winning attitude in the knock-out stages as well as we work our way towards the final.
"Although this is an important tournament and we want to win it, we are also looking for a constant improvement of the team for the future.”
RESULTS (Tuesday): Group A -- Malaysia 4 Canada 2, South Korea 4 Poland 5.
Group B: Ireland 3 South Africa 1, Japan 1 Argentina 4.
THURSDAY -- Quarter-finals: Malaysia v South Africa (7.30pm Malaysian time), Japan v South Korea, Poland v Ireland, Argentina v Canada.
P W D L F A Pts
Malaysia 3 3 0 0 12 4 9
Poland 3 1 1 1 8 11 4
Korea 3 1 0 2 8 9 3
Canada 3 0 1 2 5 9 1
P W D L F A Pts
Argentina 3 3 0 0 10 5 9
Japan 3 1 1 1 8 8 4
Ireland 3 1 0 2 6 8 3
South Africa 3 0 1 2 6 9 1