The Australian hockey players celebrate after scoring against Malaysia in the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on Sunday. Malaysia lost 8-3. - Filepic
IPOH: As much as the weakened national hockey team deserve praise for making the final, they also deserve flak for their dodgy defending in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, which ended on Sunday.
Their poor defending stood out like a sore thumb in the two matches against world champions Australia.
In the round-robin match last Saturday, Australia outplayed Malaysia 6-2. Then, in the final, they trounced coach K. Dharmaraj’s men’s 8-3 – handing them the heaviest defeat in the tournament since its inception in 1983.
That’s 14 goals conceded in just two matches – albeit to the world No. 1 team.
Even skipper Azlan Misron admitted that the backline was their weakest link.
“Conceding eight goals – five penalty corners and three field goals – in the final was a huge blow in final.
“It clearly shows that the backline cannot cope with pressure, especially against a world-class team like Australia,” said Azlan, who marshalls the defence.
The other defenders are Faiz Helmi Jali, Mohd Izad Hakimi Jamaluddin, Ahmad Kazamirul Nasruddin and newcomer Shazril Irwan Nazli.
But the 30-year-old Azlan, who is most senior player with 329 international caps, pointed out that the team were without several dexperience defenders, like Mohd Razie Abdul Rahim, Baljit Singh Charun and Mohd Madzli Ikmar.
Razie is nursing a shoulder injury, Baljit has a back injury and Madzli was rested.
“We need to rectify the defensive problem fast as we prepare for the coming tournaments, especially the World Cup (in The Hague from May 31-June 15),” said Azlan.
Ironically, Malaysia will open their World Cup Group A campaign against Australia on May 31.
But it’s not just Australia that the Malaysian defence will have to contend with in two months’ time, they will also be facing other top ranked teams like England, Belgium, Spain and India.
Olympic champions Germany, Holland, Argentina, New Zealand, South Korea and South Africa are in Group B.
“We’ve qualified for the World Cup after a 12-year lapse and we don’t want to become a laughing stock with our poor defending,” said Azlan.
Malaysia last featured in the World Cup in 2002, when Kuala Lumpur was the host.
Azlan, however, was pleased to see the forwards hitting their stride in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, netting 20 goals in six matches.
“The forward line has shown an improvement and that’s a good sign for the national team,” he said.
All the strikers – Faizal Saari, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Mohd Firhan Ashaari, Mohd Shahril Saabah and Mohd Rashid Baharom – scored in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament.
Malaysia’s next outing is the Champions Challenge I in Kuantan from April 26-May 4.