Wooden Spoon for Malaysia

Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India and Canada were once again pitted against one another in the world’s oldest hockey invitational tournament. The 24th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament at Stadium Azlan Shah, Ipoh beginning on Sunday, April 5 till Sunday, April 12, ended on a disappointing note for host Malaysia.

Throughout the week-long tournament, support for our home team was relentless, come rain or shine. However, inconsistency and individualism among our players put paid to the homesters’ dream of lifting the cup for the first time since the invitational was introduced.

For the hordes of fans it was an emotional roller coaster ride from the word “go”. One day we were up the next day it was down in the gutters. The players’ mood and enthusiasm were a big let down and picking up the pieces did not come easy considering the way our lads had performed. And to add salt to the wound, Coach Tai Beng Hai went missing during the media conference at the end of 5-6 placing match.

World-class hockey action began with the first match between Australia and Canada which saw the Aussies crushing the Canadians with a shocking 7-0. India and Korea were tied at 2 -2 in the subsequent game. In the third match of the evening, Malaysia went down 4-2 to New Zealand. And this was the signal of worse things to come.

Not having recovered fast enough, the home team took on World No 1, Australia on the second night. Most had thought Malaysia would be hammered but the boys put up a spirited fight losing 3-2. The score line was something to cheer about as it showed that the players had the stomach to take on the best in the field. Losing by a solitary goal was a saving grace, although it was on our home turf.

Fans’ hopes and expectations were met when Malaysia finally obtained its first win of the tournament when it defeated India 3-2 on the third day. Other equally exciting matches on the same evening saw New Zealand beating Canada and Australia edging Asian champion  Korea.

However, on the fourth day the home team went down 3-2 to arch rival Korea thus shattering home fans’ hopes for a top three placing.

The second win for Malaysia came in the fifth match against Canada. The 4-1 score line provided a ray of hope to the legion of fans who filled the stadium each day. On the same night, India stunned defending champion Australia 3-2 while the Kiwis drew against the Koreans.

The final day of tournament started with Malaysia taking on Canada for the fifth and sixth placing. Malaysia scored the opening goal through a penalty corner which was converted by skipper Mohamed Razie Rahim. It reinforced fans’ hopes for a fifth placing, at the very least.

But their expectations were dashed when the Canadians equalised in the 16th minute. The home team pulled away to a 3-1 lead with Faizal converting a penalty corner in the 19th minute and Mohamed Firhan scoring a field goal in the 23rd minute. The Canadians came back with guns ablaze and Gracia netted twice in 28th and 33rd minutes to level the score. Faizal scored again in the 37th minute but the Canadians drew level in the 41st minute through Matthew Sarmento. The draw culminated in a penalty shootout, which our boys lost 3-1. The defeat left Malaysia at the bottom of the pack.

The third and fourth placing play-off between India and South Korea was also settled with penalties. The former overpowered the latter 4-1. The final between Australia and New Zealand was a nail-biting match between the two Oceania hockey giants. The game ended in a 2-2 draw after regulation time. However, the Kiwis came on top, scoring 3-1 in the deciding penalty shoot-out.

National team manager, Datuk Nor Azmi, who stood-in for Coach Tai Beng Hai, correctly summed up Malaysia’s disappointing performance by stating that the players should not take any team for granted.

“This is a good lesson for us. Our preparations may be for the World Hockey League Semi-Finals (in Belgium in June) but they should take these matches seriously.”

Ili Aqilah & Mei Kuan

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