Preliminary round finishes on Tuesday at the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1
National head coach Muhammad Dhaarma Raj said Malaysia will take a "giant step forward" to ensure the host nation pulls off a majestic win over Canada in the last pool B match of the Pahang Hockey Champions Challenge 1 at Kuantan's Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium on Tuesday.
Dhaarma Raj admits that it was a bitter pill to swallow after suffering consecutive defeats against France (3-2) and Korea (3-1) which has placed the team in an "uncomfortable position" of probably having to meet pool A possible leaders New Zealand in the quarterfinals stage on Thursday.
New Zealand lead pool A with six points and take on Poland on Tuesday. However, Poland and Japan with three equal points respectively have an open chance of improving their standings in the group. In pool B, the Koreans top the table with four points, Canada in second (4) spot, France third (3) while Malaysia have yet to win any point.
Given the choice, Dhaarma Raj would prefer the Malaysians avoid any encounter with the Black Sticks, ranked sixth in the world, in the last eight of the tournament. “We all know the situation at this moment given the format of the tournament. As much as we want to avoid New Zealand the top rated team here, we might just end up playing them,” added Dhaarma Raj.
“But we can still get away with this kind of situation tomorrow against Canada. However, we are in a very tricky situation still because whatever we do our game and result will still have no bearing if France hold the Koreans to a draw or even win. We will still end up playing New Zealand,” he said.
For the record, Malaysia defeated Canada 3-0 in the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh in March. Dhaarma Raj, who is in his second assignment as senior team coach, said the team played a far better game against the Koreans than in the first match against France but were just unlucky not to have scored early in the game.
“We created many opportunities, had six penalty corners and event saw Shahril Saabah’s flick hit the post in the first 12 minutes. We were just very unlucky against the Koreans. It wasn’t our day at all. The Koreans had three chances and made good use of it. Our defence was a problem and this is something we have to look into.”
However, he dismissed talks of a rift in the team over the selection of players, but agreed that there have been changes made in match strategies which might have affected the game plan. “We also tried some things that normally we don’t do. Playing Faiz Helmi in midfield instead as a sweeper and Kevin Lim at the back were choices I had to make given the situation we are in. If we had Razie (Rahim) I could have pushed Faiz up in midfield. This is the only chance we have of trying out players in the group stage before moving on to the quarterfinals.”
“I am looking at sticking to our earlier game plan and positions. We have a problem at the back and are not settled yet. I have to see what the best line-up is as the matches go,” he added.
Team captain Azlan Misron also echoed the sentiments expressed by his coach by adding that the younger players in the team will have to "up the tempo" and get back on track. “We are one of the three better teams in this tournament (besides Korea and New Zealand) based on world rankings. Unfortunately we ended up in a very tricky situation. It will be a different game against Canada and we must take our chances well this time,” he said.
Meanwhile, New Zealand head coach Colin Batch said he was surprised with the performance of France, Poland and Ireland in this edition of the Champions Challenge 1. “Our focus has always been to qualify for the 2016 Champions Trophy and the World Cup next month. We have been heading the right direction but it's not over yet. We have the quarterfinals on our mind first and get on after every match,” said Batch.
Korean coach Shin Seok-Kyo said his players have done a good job in the last two matches despite not having his best players in Kuantan due to injuries. “We want to win this match against France although it will be another tough encounter. We know that France have players with good individual skills. It is our aim to reach the final here in Kuantan and, of course, we also want to win this tournament.”Back