Monday, June 22, 2015

Malaysia barely breathe...

MALAYSIA did just enough to keep the Olympic flame burning in chilly Antwerp when they edged China 3-2 at the KHC Dragons Stadium yesterday.
  It was not a polished display, and there were more hiccups than brilliant displays, but still at this stage, the three points are what mattered most.
  "Yes it was not the best of our ability and we can play much better than this. But since it was out first game, there are bound to be some jitters and hopefully the players would be much more settled down when we play Ireland in three days time," said Malaysian coach Tai Beng Hai.
  Razie Rahim, the captain, was also a little disappointed with the result but happy his mates walked away with three points.
  "We are capable of playing much, much, better than this but I take the positives out of this close match as we scored two field goals and one off a penalty corner. One more match to the quarter-finals, and I believe against Ireland we will play to expectations," said Razie.
   There were some really jittery moments as Malaysia failed to get even a single shot at goal in the first quarter, while China kept growing with confidence and even won a penalty corner.
  But Roslan Jamaluddin showed his mettle to palm away with ease and the quarter ended with no goals.
  China, 31 in the world, outplayed their rankings and looked on par with 12th ranked Malaysia on many fronts.
  However the game changed in the second quarter when Faizal Shaari nailed the lead with a close range cricket shot, after the ball bounced, in the 18th minute and Malaysia started to play much better hockey.
  Haziq Shamsul delivered a crucial deflection in the 30th minute to ease some pressure on the back-line, and Malaysia went into half-time break looking much better and confident.
  The third quarter started with coach Tai Beng Hai adopting a more defensive style, which was not needed at this stage because Malaysia were already on fire and have strikers like Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Firhan Ashaari, Faizal and Shahril Saabah who can do more damage to the China goal if given a free hand.
  The strategy back-fired as China started attacking and narrowed the gap in the 37th minute when Guo Xioping scored a field goal when he was left unmarked.
  And China almost equalised if not for video referral. A clean tackle from Shahrun Nabil saw umpire Raghu Prasad blowing for a penalty stroke but it was overturned by video evidence.
  Razie Rahim finally found his touch in the 54th minute off Malaysia's third penalty corner to make it 3-1, but right after the restart Zhang Zhixuan scored a field attempt to make it 3-2 -- which remained until the final hooter.
   RESULTS: June 20 -- Group A: India 3 France 2, Pakistan 2 Poland 1.
   June 21 -- Group A: Australia 10 France 0; Group B: Malaysia 3 China 2, Britain 2 Belgium 2.
   June 22: REST DAY

Pining for a Malaysian summer in Belgium

By Jugjet Singh


SUMMER in Belgium is a week late, and even the locals are still in their jackets waiting for the sun to shine.
  The famous outdoor bars in Antwerp still display empty chairs and tables, while its packed to the brim indoors, with everybody waiting anxiously for more heat this summer.
  The World League Semifinals, an Olympic Qualifier, started yesterday with the women's teams and men's Group A matches, and the KHC Red Dragons stadium was ready in every aspect to host the multitude of teams -- all playing at one pitch only.
  Malaysia's first recorded match against Belgium was at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the final score was 3-3, with 1-1 at half-time. The Malaysian heroes who scored then were C. Paramalingam (40th, 53rd) and Koh Hock Seng (32nd).
  Belgium were better in hockey even earlier, in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics they finished seventh, Singapore eighth and Malaysia ninth among 12 teams.
  However, in Melbourne Malaysia did not cross paths with Belgium, in a tournament which Kenya were 10th, Afghanistan 11th and USA 12th.
  Hockey has always been a proud tradition here, and KHC Dragons alone has 1,800 members with 1,400 of them active players.
  The Belgians, who speak Dutch in Antwerp, French in Brussels and English everywhere, are blessed to have borders with Germany, Netherlands and France as playing hockey with other nations is just a bus ride away.
  Unlike Malaysia, who needs to take a flight to India, Pakistan, Japan or South Korea to play quality matches.
  So its no surprise that Belgium are the most improved team in field hockey in the last five years as they finished fifth on three occasions -- the 2012 London Olympics and Champions Trophy in Melbourne, as well as last year's World Cup at the Netherlands.
   Asian teams India, Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia are now no match for the Belgians, and in the World League they are expected to be in the semi-finals and qualify for the Olympics.
  As for Malaysia, they open their campaign against China Sunday wearing a black arm-band and a minute of silence will be observed for the tragedy which befell our goalkeeper S. Kumar.
  Hopefully, the sun will smile on the Malaysian team today and there will be sunshine moments which will eventually take the nation into the Olympics after being in the grey shades of winter for the past 16 years. 

Nada: Roslan just as good...

GOALKEEPERS coach M. Nadarajan broke down before this interview, and openly wept for his best friend S. Kumar.
  The tragedy which befell Kumar, who lost his three-year old son days before the World League Semifinals, took a heavy toll of Nadarajan who is not only Kumar's coach, but best of mates who work in Tenaga Nasional.
  Wiping his tears, Nadarajan said: "If I could, I would pad up and play for Malaysia to realise Kumar's dream of playing in the Olympics."
  Kumar has played at every level in hockey, but the Olympics has escaped him thus far.
  "Looking forward, Roslan (Jamaluddin) is an experienced hand and is the only player in the current team to have played in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
  "He also played one half in every match during the World League Round Two in Singapore, expect for the Japan semi-finals which Kumar played a full game.
  "So, he is still agile and while Kumar has some special skills, Roslan also has his specialities and so I say both are equal in their own ways," said Nadarajan.
  Junior World Cup goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman, 23, arrived yesterday as back-up to Roslan.
  When asked if Hafizuddin is ready for action: "He played well to take Malaysia into the semi-finals of the Junior World Cup and he also has experience playing at the Commonwealth Games. But here, he will be on standby in case of injury."

Confident skipper...

MALAYSIAN skipper Razie Rahim is confident that his mates will not disappoint against China today (Sunday) in the World League Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium.
  Ranked 31, China have included a few new faces, but the majority are from the Incheon Asian Games squad which Malaysia beat 4-1.
  China made the WL Semifinals by emerging tops in Round Two in South Africa, but that does not bother Razie.
  "We came here on a mission to qualify for the Olympics, and beating China is a must. There are no two ways about this first match. All our preparations have been geared towards beating China as well as our second match against Ireland," said Razie.
  Malaysia play Ireland after a three-day rest, and wins in both the matches will hand Razie and his mates a spot in the quarter-finals -- which is just one step away from packing for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next year.
  "Although we have not played China since the Asian Games, we have been watching their recent matches on video and know their strengths and weaknesses.
  "As for me, I have never felt better executing penalty corners and will try to give the team an early boost and also to douse the China fight by scoring early goals," said Razie.
  The team had a light training around their hotel in Antwerp yesterday, as the Belgian weather kept changing the script. It can become chilly and 17 degrees Celsius with constant drizzle, and the next hour the sun would be out.
  Coach Tai Beng Hai is also confident that China can be beaten.
  "Even though I predict it to be a close match, but victory should be ours as my players have been giving their best and even though we were hit by a tragedy and goalkeeper S. Kumar had to fly home, the target still remains the same -- beat China and Ireland and qualify for the quarter-finals," said Beng Hai.
  The script looks easy and winning three matches is all that Malaysia needs to do, to qualify to the Olympics.
  But if they mess up against China today, the door would be virtually closed as they need to beat Ireland next just to avoid finishing fifth in Group A which does not offer any knock out options. Only the top four teams in each group play in the quarter-finals.
  The other teams in Group B are far too strong for Malaysia but if they win the first two matches, even hammerings in the hands of Belgium and Britain can be taken with a big smile.
  In Group A are world No 1 Australia, the raging favourites for gold, Asian Games champions India (the only team here who has qualified for the Olympics), Pakistan, Poland and France.
  If Malaysia achieve their target of beating China and Ireland, they would finish third in Group B and the likely hood of quarter-finals opponents would be either India or Pakistan.
  But if they finsih fourth in Group B, the corss over would be against the champions of Group A -- Australia for sure.

Continue marching...

By Jugjet Singh


WHEN A tragedy befalls the only option is to be strong and march ahead, and support from family and friends is vital at this stage.
  Nobody should face a tragedy which has befallen our No 1 goalkeeper S. Kumar. Its never easy to lose a loved one, but a three-year old son would surely break even the strongest of hearts.
  When Kumar's father died in 2010, he was keeping goal at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, and when his first son was born, he was at the Asian Games battling for Malaysia.
  And now when he arrived in Belgium, he had to rush back to the funeral of Haarsheen, who is only three years old.
  Nobody deserves such pain, and surely not a gentleman like Kumar.
  We come from the same village, Tampin in Negri Sembilan, and he lives opposite my house. He is family, and so this tragedy has affected me as well.
  Growing up, Kumar never had a bad bone in him, and was a role model in school as well as sports where he was identified by the late Tengku Besar Secondary School teacher S. Sivapathasundram to don pads between the goalmouth.
  His resilience saw him become the No 1 not only in Malaysia but was also awarded the No 1 goalkeeper in Asia.
  He took Malaysia to the Netherlands World Cup when it came to penalty shoot-out against Japan in the Johor Baru World League Semifinals. And he again took Malaysia to the World League Semifinals in Belgium when it came to another penalty shoot-out in the World League Round Two in Singapore in January.
  He held gallantly in the last four shoot-out, and Malaysia beat Japan and entered the final and went on to beat Poland 8-0 for their first International Hockey Federation (FIH) tournament gold.
  For a man who has done so much for the country and his family, the tragedies that has hit him are really unjust, to put it mildly.
  Before heading for Belgium, Kumar told me that he really wants to play in the Olympics, as it is the only tournament that has eluded him over the years.
  Well Kumar, rest assured your team-mates will give their best in the World League Semi-finals in Belgium, and hopefully realise your dream.
  As of now, your family needs you more than your country, and so be strong my friend. On behalf of all hockey lovers in Malaysia, our deepest condolences Kumar.

Sad start...

MALAYSIA'S Olympic campaign received an early blow when No 1 goalkeeper S. Kumar had to rush back due to a personal tragedy, but the rest of the players are determined the show must go on.
  Kumar, who has saved Malaysia many times with his heroics antics, lost his three-year-old son due to illness and will be replaced by Hafizuddin Othman.
  Now the only player in the team who has been to the Olympics, Roslan Jamaluddin, will be trusted to stand between the posts.
  "It is a great loss not only to Kumar but also to the entire team because we are not only team-mates but also family. The only thing that I cam say now is that I will give my very best to make sure Malaysia qualify for the Olympics, a platform which Kumar really wanted to play in," said Roslan who is the last remaining member of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
  There was a somber moment as the players lifted their gear and placed it onto the bus heading for a training session. Gone were the normal laughter and teasing and joking seen during other tournaments.
  "Our hearts are very heavy and we still can't digest the bad news which has befallen Kumar. However, one thing is for sure, the entire team has a stronger resolution to qualify for the Olympics," said Kuamar's room-mate Baljit Singh Charun Singh.
  The road to Rio de Janeiro is hinging on three matches for Malaysia. Its looks easy, and also rosy, but could also turn into a nightmare if they fall in the first hurdle.
  China are first on the schedule, and a win here is must for Tai Beng Hai's men to keep the Olympic hope burning.
  And the fixtures have been drawn akin a blessing as Ireland are a distant three rest days later and three points against the Irish will see Malaysia qualify for the quarter-finals on a better footing.
  Belgium and Britain are the last two hurdles, but if both China and Ireland are tamed, Malaysia can afford to lose both the other matches and still finish third in Group B.
  And if it goes as planned, the third placing will see Malaysia play either India or Pakistan in the last eight.
  So in toal, only three matches needed to be won in the World League Semifinals for Malaysia to achieve their Olympic dream.
  But if they crumble and finish fourth, mighty  Australia will await them in the quarters. The worse case scenario in Belgium is finishing a disastrous fifth in Group B, which automatically shuts the door as there is no playoff here.
  In Group A are Australia, India, Pakistan, Poland and France.
  For the record, Malaysia played two friendlies against Brazil (won 3-2) and Netherlands Under-21 (lost 2-1) as their last warm-ups.
  "Everybody wants to win but sometimes, we need to hold back to avoid injuries leading into an important tournament," said Beng Hai.