Day of the Underdogs

Against all odds, the two lowest-ranked teams at the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2017 tournament won their final games, on Friday May 5, in contrasting style. World 16th ranked Japan shocked the hockey fraternity when it defeated Australia, currently ranked second on the International Hockey Federation (FIH) listing, 3-2. A score totally unexpected considering the Aussies stellar performance thus far.
Later on in the day Malaysia, currently ranked 14th, defeated India, ranked 6th, in an intensely-fought match winning with a solitary goal. This was the Speedy Tigers first ever win in the tournament.
The match between Malaysia and India was the eventual game before the finals on Saturday, May 6. After a goalless three quarters, Malaysia’s Shahril Saabah scored at the 51 minutes taken from a penalty corner shot. With nine minutes remaining, the Indians tried their level best to get even but failed.
With Malaysia’s victory, India lost the opportunity of battling Australia for the top spot.
“It’s not about denying the opportunity of a fellow Asian country a shot at the cup. We’re playing for our pride, and as the host, we’re under tremendous pressure to perform well. We knew India needed a win to be in the final, but we’ve to play to win,” said Malaysian coach, Stephen Van Huizen.
To add salt to injury, the Indian team lost its captain, Manpreet Singh, in the final quarter when he was shown the green card at the 47th minute. As soon as Manpreet left the field, the Indians’ play became erratic and they lost some opportunities to level the score.
“Disappointed? No, not with the result, definitely. But I’m disappointed with the team’s overall performance. We missed too many chances and that’s something we’ve to work on,” said Roelant Oltmans, the Indian coach.
For the finals on Saturday, May 6, Malaysia will square off with Japan for the fifth and sixth placing at 3:40 pm. Although Malaysia is ranked above Japan in FIH listing, the Samurais have improved much since their last appearance at the tournament in 2015.
“Japan had a good match against Australia today. The result is shocking. It goes to prove that in sport anything can happen. We’ll try our best to beat them,” said Stephen.
On Saturday, May 6, India will face New Zealand for the third and fourth placing at 6 pm while the Aussies will take on the Brits for the two top spots at 8:35 pm. Ranked 7th in FIH listing, this is first time ever Great Britain has made it to the final after 23 years playing in the tournament.
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