By Anne Das
It was a do-or-die mission for both Malaysia and Pakistan, but at the end of the day, both survived to fight for another day with a 1-1 draw in their second match in the 29th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2022 International Men’s hockey tournament at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium, Ipoh, last night.
Coming into the match with losses from their opening matches against Korea (0-3) and South Africa(1-4) respectively, a loss for either Malaysia or Pakistan would have virtually ended their hopes of a top two finish for the final.
The match as expected started with both teams taking the field with utmost urgency and the game swung from end to end.
For Malaysia, a heart-to-heart talk by coach A. Arul Selvaraj after their opening game loss and his belief on the team’s GPS track record on the players and performances in matches, which indicated that the players will be stronger in the second match, saw everything fall in place tonight.
Indeed, Malaysia looked a different side from their opening match against Korea where they chased every ball, closed down their opponents early, set up fast pace and matched the aggression of the Pakistan players and were not intimidated.
And Malaysia was rewarded for their rejuvenated performance when Sabahan Shello Silverius put Malaysia in the lead in the 27th minute after a brilliant display of individual stick work to beat Pakistan’s experienced captain, Umar Bhutta and take on two more defenders before beating goalkeeper Abdullah Ishtiaq Khan.
But Pakistan, not wanting to be outdone, fought back hard and continued to be aggressive and at the end of the game had picked up four green and one yellow as compared to Malaysia’s one green and one yellow card.
Pakistan eventually found their much wanted equaliser in the 36th minute off a penalty corner when Arbaz Ahmad scored.
But the day for Malaysia in the end belonged to goalkeeper Hafizuddin Othman whose brilliant saves in the 42nd minute to another point blank shot by Pakistan captain Umar Bhutta minutes later.
Hafizuddin indeed redeemed himself after coach Arul took him to task for a poor outing against Korea.
The icing to the cake for Hafizuddin must have been when he was named man of the match.
Coach Aruk agreed that Hafizuddin redeemed himself but said he was not going to praise him a lot.
“Hafizuddin did not have much to do today but yes he redeemed himself and his crucial saves in the end saved the day for us. But that is his job and I am glad that he had a good day at work today.”
In regards to the match, Arul admitted the team played with better gusto, spirit, determination and effort.
But Arul was concerned that several players were suffering from cramps towards the end of the game.
“I need to talk to my medical team to find out what is happening because we are supposed to be a very fit team.”
Arul was happy with the one point, but said that if they had been more clinical in the finishing, the game could have been won.
“But generally I am happy with the performance of the players, especially the way they bounced back after the Korean game.
“We have to continue to improve and work harder in our remaining three matches.”
Malaysia plays South Africa next on Friday, then Egypt on Saturday and finally Japan on Monday.
Pakistan’s Dutch coach Siegfriend Aikman said that he was happy with the draw but not losing two points.
“The game was ours for the taking if we had used our chances. We dominated play and I did not think Malaysia was a threat to us,” declared Aikman.
“We ourselves too missed some chances which I am not happy about.
“But then again, I am happy with the overall performance of the team which comprises a majority of young players and the plan now is to expose them to high level quality matches and look forward to the future. That we have achieved.”
Pakistan’s remaining matches are against Japan next, followed by Korea and winding up with Egypt.
PAKISTAN (1) to MALAYSIA (1)