Friday, September 5, 2014

Humbling experience on Tour

THE national hockey team went on a whirlwind four-day Tour of Incheon last week for a feel of the artificial pitch, and were handed a painful lesson by club teams instead.
Coach Arul Selvaraj’s team, preparing for the Asian Games in South Korea from Sept 19-Oct 4, lost 2-0 to Incheon City and drew 1-1 with the National Korean Sports University and the two clubs did not have any national players.
Both the matches may only be friendlies, but it brought back that kind of unpleasant feelings like being beaten 4-2 by Trinidad and Tobago in the Scotland Commonwealth Games.
It was a grim and expensive (considering the money spent in going there) Korean lesson, as well as a wake-up call for the Malaysian side who won silver at the 2010 Games in Guangzhou, China, and are looking to play in the final in Incheon.
“We went on a four-day tour and played at the Games venue, as well as checked out the Games Village as part of our preparations.
“Even though we lost to club sides, but at this stage, results do not matter yet as I get the team back into playing shape,” said Arul Selvaraj.
The “new” coach found himself in the hot-seat after the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) removed K. Dharmaraj 40 days before the Asian Games.
Arul now has a daunting task of not only making sure Malaysia do not lose to Singapore in their opening match on Sept 20, and then winning three more points against Bangladesh the next day, but also taking his team into the final.
Malaysia are in Group A with Singapore, Bangladesh, Japan and South Korea. In Group B are India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Oman and China.
The good thing is that Malaysia have a three-day rest before they play South Korea on Sept 25, followed by Japan on Sept 27 after another rest day.
The formula would be to beat Singapore, Bangladesh and Japan which would be enough to take Malaysia into the semi-finals.
And if they make the semi-finals, Malaysia are highly likely to meet either India or Pakistan in the knock-out cross-over.
There are 20 players in training now, and they will only play against the National Juniors, and train on their fitness back home.
There is much at stake in Incheon, as the champions will advance to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, while the silver medallists and the rest of the Asian teams would have to qualify through the World League format, which is much more challenging.