Hockey – Are we ready?

With a clean sheet winning all matches, Australia proved that their position as the world’s top-ranked hockey nation was no fluke when they won the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hands-down.

The Aussies defeated England 2-1 to claim the title for the tenth time. Incidentally, they were beaten 4-3 by the Great Britain team in last year’s tournament. It was a bittersweet win for the Kookaburras as the match was the last for captain Mark Knowles. Knowles had announced his retirement from international hockey in February. The 33-year-old defender’s last international outing will be the 21st Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia in April.

Olympic Games 2016 champions, Argentina came in third defeating host Malaysia 3-2 in the third-fourth placing play-off. Argentina won two out of five matches; defeating India 3-2 and Ireland 5-3. Meanwhile, world sixth-ranked India overcame Ireland 4-1 in the fifth-sixth placing play-off leaving Ireland languishing at the bottom.

Special awards for this year’s tournament went to: Fair Play Award (Piala Raja Ashman Shah) was won by Australia, Man of the Match Award for the final match went to Mark Knowles, Argentinian Gonzalo Peilat took the Top Scorer Award with eight goals, the Best Keeper Award was won by England’s George Pinner while the coveted, Best Player of the Tournament Award went to Daniel Beale from Australia.

With the 21st Commonwealth Games in the wings, is our men’s field hockey team ready?

Rank is just a number

The first match won by the Speedy Tigers was on the first day of the tournament when they beat world tenth-ranked Ireland 4-1. Skipper Razie Rahim scored the opening goal followed by Tengku Tajuddin’s a few moments later. Even Ireland’s tight defense couldn’t blunt the Speedy Tigers’ attacks. Razie added another two goals via penalty corner ensuring a clean win for Stephen Van Huizen’s boys.

Out of five matches the boys had, the most memorable was the game against world second-ranked Argentina whom they beat 2-1. Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin’s goal in the 20th minute was the boost the team needed. Eight minutes later the crowd went wild when Najmi Farizal Jazlan scored Malaysia’s second goal. The score stood at 2-nil at half time.    .

Diego Paz scored Argentina’s only goal in the 32nd minute and despite earning two penalty corners, even star player Gonzalo Peillat couldn’t convert to save the Argies. The last time the South American team lost to Malaysia was in 2001 when the home team won 4-2.

Thanks to his incredible saves, Malaysia’s keeper, Hairi Abd Rahman, was named the Man of The Match during this opening match.

Overconfidence sinks the ship

When the Speedy Tigers defeated the ‘Los Leones’, fans were hoping for two consecutive wins against India and England for a spot in the final. All hopes were dashed when Malaysia went down 5-1 to India.

That was India’s first win after being routed 4-2 by Australia, lost 3-2 to Argentina but drew 1-1 against England. Two successive goals by Shilanad Lakra and Gurjan Singh in the first quarter seemed to kill the home team’s spirits. Despite Faisal Saari’s goal, the Malaysians’ performance remained insipid till the end of the game.

Malaysia lost its chances to be in the final with the Aussies when they lost to England on the fifth day of the tournament. Both teams knew they must work hard to win for a spot in the final. However, coming up against the world seventh-ranked team had a nagging impact on the minds of the players and Malaysia, ranked twelve in the world, lost 7-2.

Despite the boys’ poor performance, Coach Stephen Van Huizen applauded the team for not giving up even when they were down 7-0.

“The boys did their best and I am proud they kept their heads up. No one wants to lose 7-2 to anyone,” said Stephen.

Commonwealth Games and World Cup

In less than a month, the same team will be in Gold Cost, Australia for the 21st Commonwealth Games beginning April 4 till 15. Our home team will have to contend with India, England, Pakistan and Wales in the preliminary rounds, as all are in the same grouping. Are the Speedy Tigers ready for the joust Down Under or will it be just another outing? Only time will tell.

Most of the participants in the just-concluded Azlan Shah Cup 2018 were experimenting with their youth teams. The most obvious ones were Argentina, India, England, Ireland and Australia. They were using the much-touted tournament as a testing ground for their second-stringers.

Since they are already through to the Hockey World Cup 2018 in Bhubaneswar, India from November 28 to December 16, the Azlan Shah Cup served as a convenient trial for these aspiring teams.

The Commonwealth Games will be another test before the world’s top 16 hockey nations gather in India for the finale at the end of the year. Malaysia is one of them.

Ili Aqilah

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