Malaysia's Mohd Azri Hassan tussling for the ball with Australia's Liam de Young in their Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match. Australia won 6-2. – RONNIE CHIN/The Star
IPOH: Malaysia qualified for Sunday’s final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament despite being outplayed 6-2 by defending champions Australia at the Azlan Shah Stadium.
It was Malaysia’s first defeat in the tournament but it hardly mattered as they pipped South Korea to the title playoff by scoring more goals, although both had the same goal difference. Both were tied on 10 points following Asia Cup champions South Korea’s 5-2 win over South Africa earlier in the day.
South Korea beat South Africa 5-2 in Saturday’s second match with Jung Man-jae (22nd), Kang Moon-kweon (26th), Hyun Hye-sung (42nd), Kang Moon-kyu (67th) and Jang Jong-hyun (70th) getting on the score sheet while Ignatius Malgraff (18th) and Brandon Panther (68th) replied for the Africans.
The Koreans needed to win by a four-goal margin to edge out Malaysia but the Asia Cup champions could only manage to beat the Africans by a three-goal margin to hand Malaysia a ticket to the final.
On Saturday night, Malaysia did well to concede only one goal to Australia in the first half with Nicholas Budgeon on target in the 17th minute.
But the Australians, who whipped Malaysia 9-0 in a friendly in Perth last month, caught fire after the breather.
The unbeaten Kookaburras were relentless and scored through Chris Ciriello (38th and 59th), Russell Ford (42nd), Daniel Beale (43rd) and Jeremy Hayward (46th).
Malaysia salvaged some pride by scoring two goals in the final nine minutes. Forward Faizal Saari, back in action after serving a one-match suspension, converted two penalty corners in the 61st and 70th minutes.
Malaysian goalkeeper Mohd Hafizuddin Othman, who conceded all the nine goals in the friendly, conceded five this time and he was replaced by Mohd Hazrul Faiz Ahmad Sobri in the 48th minute. It was Mohd Hazrul’s first international cap.
National chief coach K. Dharmaraj said that they could have played a defensive game against Australia to earn a draw.
“But we did not want to play cowardly. We deployed an open game. Although we lost, I’m happy we managed to score two goals,” said Dharmaraj.
“It is a bonus to reach the final as the MHC (Malaysian Hockey Confederation) had set us a top-three target.
Despite the win, Australian coach Ric Charlesworth was unhappy with his team’s performance.
“We were sloppy in the first half and we also wasted a number of chances. I am also not happy with my defence for conceding two penalty corner goals in the last 10 minutes.”