PIC: TAI BENG HAI
MALAYSIA were a disappointing lot in the Azlan Shah Cup, as they slid all the way to the bottom, even lower than Canada just eight weeks before the Olympic Qualifier in Belgium.
After beating Canada 4-1, 15th in the world, the No 12 Malaysia collapsed in the fifth-sixth classification when they were held to a 4-4 draw, and then beaten 3-1 in the shoot-out.
Sixty minutes of play, with four quarters, is here to stay and it looks like coach Tai Beng Hai's team have yet to master the art of plying consistent hockey in all four quarters, which have two, 10 and then another two minutes break.
Malaysia blew hot-and-cold in every quarter, and the record will show that Beng Hai's men went down 0-2 to New Zealand but fought gallantly to level at 2-2, before collapsing 4-2.
And against world champions Australia, after a gallant fight, Malaysia lost 3-2 in a match which they dominated.
India were shocked 3-2, but the national players gave South Korea 2-0 lead, then fought back to level the score only to lose 3-2.
Azlan Shah Cup was the last avenue for Beng Hai to test his charges, and they failed the consistency test, something they can't afford in the World League Semi-finals in Antwerp, Belgium, on June 20 to July 5.
Australia lost back-to-back matches against India and then New Zealand, and were denied a whopping ninth title, but coach Graham Reid's parting words are worth their weight in gold -- especially for Malaysia.
"It's a marathon, not a sprint (towards the Belgium qualifier and then Rio de Janeiro) but we will need to take all those Azlan Shah Cup lessons on board. We just need to work harder and harder in Perth," said Reid.
He also praised the Kiwi goalkeeper: "We hit and hit him hard, but he stopped us many times. That's standard New Zealand, their goalkeeper (Devon Manchester) played really well."
The Kookaburras will host New Zealand, Pakistan and South Korea in early May, in their final warm-up before heading for Antwerp where they are the favourites to qualify for the Olympics.
Malaysia must learn from the Australian defeat, it was because of sturdy goalkeeping from Manchester, and Malaysia had S. Kumar and we almost pulled off a point against the Kookas, but a bungling forward-like shattered that dream... take note Beng Hai.
Malaysia are involved in that same marathon with Australia, and still have time to work harder and harder in Kuala Lumpur... jot that down Beng Hai.
In Belgium, three tickets will be made available to the 2016 Olympics, but with double qualification, even the fifth placed team has a chance to play in Brazil... so you need to motivate the team to fight till the last match Beng Hai.
Playing in Group B, Malaysia will face Belgium, Great Britain, Ireland and China. In Group A are Australia, India, Pakistan, Poland and France.
Azlan Shah bronze medallists India have qualified for the Olympics by winning the Asian Games gold, while Malaysia have a daunting task of beating China and Ireland in their group to avoid the wooden spoonist title in Belgium which in all probability pair them against Australia in the cross-over quarter-finals.
And judging by current form, Belgium and Great Britain are out of Beng Hai and his men's league -- unless they take Reid's advise and re-start their marathon by working harder and harder in Kuala Lumpur.
Also, there is no more room for players who want to go on a long vacation, skipping training, using studies as excuse, using money as excuse, or using politics as an issue to stay away from camp.
The marathon has started, and Malaysia need to keep pace with Australia, and be ready to sprint past India and Pakistan in Group A of the World League Semi-finals if they want to be known as Olympians.
... the last entry into Beng Hai's Azlan Shah Cup diary should be: "In future, I will face the Press win, lose or draw. And not send manager Datuk Nur Azmi Ahmad to face the media bricks..."
(Note: Beng Hai attended all other post match Press Conferences, but left the Azlan Shah Stadium in a huff after losing the fifth spot to Canada).