Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beware the pitfalls in Belgium..

THERE was never a moment of doubt when Malaysia hammered Poland 8-0 to claim the World League Round Two gold medal at the Sengkang Stadium in Singapore on Sunday.
   It was a totally different Malaysia, one which made very few mistakes at the back-line, but even in such a magical win, there were some grey areas which need urgent attention before the June WL Semi-finals in Belgium.
   For, awaiting Malaysia in Belgium is a chance to play in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, a feat last achieved in Sydney 2000.
   Not wanting to silence the thunder or pull the rug from under the jubilant players and officials' feet, the truth is that Malaysia were well below par, physically, and also mentally which almost cost them the semi-finals match against Japan.
   That match, which went into shoot-out after a 1-1 draw in regulation time, showed plenty of chinks in the Malaysian team.
   The Japanese were much fitter, more motivated, and even though had only three chances, nailed the equaliser while Malaysia wasted more than 10 attempts after taking the early lead.
   Missing sitters was a big problem in Singapore, as coach Tai Beng Hai's forward-line missed at least three sitters before scoring in almost all matches.
    Even against Poaland at least four open chances were wasted, especially by tournament top-scorer and  Player-of-the-Tournament Faizal Saari.
    Faizal scored a total of 12 goals in six matches, but he also missed at least 12 open chances and his biggest problem is ballooning the ball over the bar even though the goalkeeper has been beaten.
   The other forwards, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Firhan Ashaari and Izwan Firdaus were also equally guilty of missing sitters, which they can't afford in the WL Semi-finals in Belgium.
   At the back, Malaysia have the best defenders in Baljit Singh, Razie Rahim and goalkeepers S. Kumar and Roslan Jamaluddin -- all four played above par in every match, with Razie also delivering in the penalty corners.
   The next move, according to team manager Datuk Nur Azmi Ahmad is to call 15 more players for joint training and then select the best for the Azlan Shah Cup in April  2-12 in Ipoh.
   But it looks like the same 18 in Singapore would be the best bet to play against world champions Australia, Asian champions India; New Zealand, South Korea and Canada. South Africa are the other invited team, but have yet to confirm.
   "The Azlan Shah Cup would be the best avenue to sharpen our strike-force, as it would be the last tournament before we head to Belgium," said Nur Azmi.
   Beng Hai was moon-walking after the 8-0 hammering of Poland, but with consultant Neil Hawgood hanging around his neck like a noose.
   When asked is he believed a local coach would be good enough to handle the team at the WL Semi-finals: "I have completed my task, and now it is up to the MHC (Malaysian Hockey Confederation) to decide on the next course of action regarding the coaching structure," said Beng Hai.
   The MHC are in the midst of hiring Hawgood, and if the deal materializes, Beng Hai could find himself as team manager in Belgium.

Final standings
1 Malaysia – Qualified for Semi-Finals of Hockey World League
2 Poland – Qualified for Semi-Finals of Hockey World League
3 Japan – Qualified for Semi-Finals of Hockey World League
4 Oman
5 Ukraine
6 Bangladesh
7 Singapore
8 Mexico


Player of the Tournament: Faizal Saari (MAS)
Top Scorer: Faizal Saari (MAS) - 12 goals
Young Player of the Tournament: Shunya Miyazaki (JPN)
Goalkeeper of the Tournament: Takashi Yoshikawa (JPN)