Malaysia opened their campaign at the 23rd edition of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh last evening against South Africa. Malaysia with a world ranking of 13th is currently behind South Africa who is at 12th spot. The two teams were therefore closely matched on paper.Four of the teams playing in the tournament this year have secured places in the World Cup to be held in the Netherlands this May. Malaysia and South Africa are qualified for the World Cup alongside South Korea and Australia. This tournament, therefore, provided an opportunity for the teams and coaches to size each other up.Malaysia with six newcomers in the squad was out to prove a point under recently appointed coach K. Dharmaraj who said at the press conference a couple of days ago, that he targets a top two placing for Malaysia.The game started with Malaysia firmly in control. The South Africans stood off our boys and allowed them to attack non-stop for almost five minutes. There was only one South African incursion into the Malaysian half during this time. After just ten minutes, the Malaysian dominance paid off with a cross from the right being deflected past the outstretched goalkeeper by Shahril Saabah.Malaysia continued to dominate possession although South Africa proved to be a handful when they did obtain possession. The South African players were looking to take on the locals one on one with their close control and fast footwork.
Malaysia won a series of short corners but just could not find the net. On the turnover, South Africa were back on the attack and it was only by determined defence often diving into tackles that saved the day.South Africa won a short corner which was initially saved but had to be retaken. The South Africans scored at the second time to level the scores one all in the 16th minute.The second half started much the same as the first, with Malaysia dominating possession. Their hard work was rewarded with a second goal with 28 minutes still left in the game. Rashid Baharom was credited with the goal which he deflected in from a right-sided cross.However, half way through the second half, South Africa were awarded a short corner which they converted to level the scores at two all.With the clock ticking, Malaysia once again won a short corner which was initially mis-trapped. After dribbling the ball back into the D, it was fired past the goalkeeper by Faizal Saari, redeeming himself from the nine earlier missed chances in penalty corners. Malaysia went on to win the game 3-2, taking home valuable first round points.