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Published: Saturday December 14, 2013 MYT 3:56:00 PM
Updated: Saturday December 14, 2013 MYT 4:07:01 PM

One final hurrah for juniors to make podium

Shortlived. The Malaysia team celebrate after scoring the first goal against France in the Junior World Cup semi-final match on Friday. The Malaysians went on to lose the match on penalties and will face Holland in the third placing playoff on Sunday. - events.fih.ch

Shortlived. The Malaysia team celebrate after scoring the first goal against France in the Junior World Cup semi-final match on Friday. The Malaysians went on to lose the match on penalties and will face Holland in the third placing playoff on Sunday. - events.fih.ch

NEW DELHI: Malaysia have never been lucky when it comes to fighting for third placing in the Junior World Cup.

In the 1979 edition, they met Holland and were beaten 3-1. In 1982, Pakistan defeated them in the playoff match.

So, could third time be the charm for Malaysia when they face Holland on Sunday?

Malaysia had a great chance to make the final against France in the semi-final on Friday. Coach K. Dharmaraj’s boys had, after all, won all their previous four outings – three group matches and one quarter-final clash. And in a couple of those matches, they won despite playing poorly.

In the semi-finals, they took the lead and then went into a defensive mode. This allowed France to come back and hold them to a 1-1 draw in regulation time.

Malaysia actually have good attacking options. So, there was no reason for them to be on the back foot.

But the damage’s done.

Well, at least the team achieved their top-four target, although making the podium would be a great way for the players to end their junior days.

None of these players will feature in this tournament again as they will be over-aged and the least they could do is to try and finish third.

It won’t be easy, but there’s no harm in giving it a shot.

Dharmaraj said that his main problem would be to motivate the players to get them back to playing their best game after the semi-final disappointment.

“We have played against Holland in friendlies and we know they are a very tough team to beat. They will also be well motivated like us after the disappointment of missing the final,” said Dharmaraj.

“But one-off matches are always harder to play as you do not get a second chance to get it right.

“But we have won the Junior Asia Cup before ... and have the experience playing at this stage.

“So, we’ll have to just buck up and get the job done. The Dutch won’t make it easy ... they have top players who are in good form.

“They are fast and have a good defensive set-up. We will have to raise our game a couple of notches to match them.”

But even Dharmaraj is more concerned with motivating his players rather than working on the game plan.

“Frankly, even I still can’t get over the loss (to France)... I guess but we need to move on and win a medal,” he said.

“This is a good team and I hope their efforts in the tournament will be rewarded with a podium finish. The Dutch are a great team and would have made the final had they avoided Germany.

“We need to control the pace of the match against Holland and be patient ... and strike at the right time.”

Dharmaraj is right. The players should forget about the semi-final defeat and take it as a lesson.

They should go out there and show everyone that Malaysian hockey is not about to ride into the sunset, as many are saying, but capable of taking on the best and beating them.

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