Saturday, January 24, 2015

Malaysia qualify for WL Semifinals in Belgium

MALAYSIA were a pathetic side but were saved the blushes by goalkeeper S. Kumar, who took them into the final of the World League Round Two by making super saves in the penalty shoot-out at the Sengkang Stadium in Singapore yesterday.
   The score stood at 1-1 after the final whistle, and in the shoot-out Malaysia won 3-2 thanks to Kumar, who made three super saves.
   The Tampin-born Kumar's heroics also saw Malaysia qualify for the World League Semi-final in Belgium in June, as three tickets are on offer in Singapore.
    Marhan Jalil scored an early field goal, by a solo effort in the fifth minute, and the crowd were baying for more Japan blood, but it never came.
   Instead, the Japanese grew in confidence and were unlucky not to have won the match in regulation time. Kenta Tanaka equalised in the 15th minute to take the match to a shoot-out.
    Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin Missed, Izwan Firdaus missed, but Malaysia were kept in the hunt as Kumar brought out three saves.
    Faizal Saari, Firhan Ashaari and Fitri Saari delivered for Malaysia in the shoot-out and now they will play Poland for the gold medal today.
   In the other semi-finals, Poland beat Oman 7-1.
   "We have achieved the target set by MHC (Malaysian Hockey Confederation) which was to play in the final, and now, we will be after my as well as my players target which is to win gold in this tournament," said Malaysian coach Tai Beng Hai.
   Beng Hai rued four attempts which hit the post: "Three penalty corners and a field attempt hit the post and bar, and that made our task much harder. However, we had four easy matches before this and we were brought down to earth in the semi-finals.
   "I see this as a blessing before be take on Poland for the gold. We did play Poland in a few friendlies in Bukit Jalil before coming to Singapore, but that was with a different structure, and now the team is playing differently and we will go for the gold," said Beng Hai.
   In Kuala Lumpur, Poland drew 4-4 and then won 4-3 in the friendlies, but as the tag applies, it were just friendlies.
   Malaysia have played Poland 25 times, won 15 , drew 5 and lost 5. We have scored 61 and conceeded 37 goals. The last encounter was at the 2012 Champions Challenge in Argentina where Malaysia won 4-0. 
   Japan coach Kang Keon-Wook summed up the match: "Malaysia were unlucky in the four quarters as they hit the post and bar four times, but were lucky that they have a very good goalkeeper in the shoot-out (Kumar).
  RESULTS: Semi-finals -- Malaysia 1 Japan 1 (Malaysia win 3-2 in penalty shoot-out); Poland 7 Oman 1.
   Sunday...Final: Malaysia v Poland (8pm); Third-Fourth: Japan v Oman (5.30pm); Fifth-Sixth: Bangladesh v Ukraine (3pm); Seventh-Eighth: Singapore v Mexico (9am)

Japan play underdogs

JAPAN coach Kang Keon-Wook played down his team's chances against Malaysia in the semi-finals of the World League Round Two at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium in Singapore today.
   The Korean, who led his team to a silver medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, felt Malaysia are a totally different side from the one which he saw in action last year.
   Even though Malaysia beat Japan 4-1 in the Asian Games last year, Kang was really impressed with the progress made by the national players since.
   The other factor for the Korean to claim the underdogs tag is because he had to make eight changes to his Asian Games side due to injuries to key players.
   "I believe Malaysia will be our toughest opponents in this tournament as they have improved so much since I last saw them at the Asian Games. There is more understanding, and the players give their all in every match and this can be seen from the impressive scorelines," said Kang.
    Japan were beaten 3-2 by Poland in Group B, while Malaysia enter the semi-finals with a perfect record after whacking Ukraine 5-1, Oman 7-0, Singapore 16-1 and Mexico 10-1.
   Kang's men beat Bangladesh 5-1, Mexico 6-0 and Ukraine 5-0 to play in the semis.
   "The biggest problem with Japan, since I took over for the last two years, is the constant changes in players every few months due to injury, club commitment and also early retirement. I had to select eight new players for this tournament because many of the best picked up injuries playing in the local league.
   "You can see from the scoreline, Malaysia are really playing well. But then again, we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain in this match, so we will not make it easy," said Kang.
   Malaysia must beat Japan to claim an early ticket to the World League Round Two, even though three are in offer in Singapore.
   Malaysian coach Tai Beng Hai is optimistic his charges will not let the country down: "As usual the instructions will be not to take any team lightly and Japan can be dangerous if we allow them space. We need to score early goals to douse the fire, and I am confident the forward-line will make the chances count."
   That is the biggest problem with the team right now, as the forward-line has missed too many sitters even though the opponents were nothing to shout about thus far.
   In the worse case scenario, if Malaysia lose against Japan today, they still have the bronze medal to fight for and their highly likely opponents are Oman, as Poland are tipped to sail into the final.
  RESULTS: Fifth-Eighth -- Mexico 2 Ukraine 4; Bangladesh 3 Singapore 0.
  Jan 24: Semi-finals -- Malaysia v Japan (3pm); Poland v Oman (5.30pm).