Malaysia lost 1-3 to South Korea in the Champions Challenge I group match. – Bernama Photo
KUANTAN: Something is amiss with the national hockey team.
They came into the Champions Challenge I with high hopes and a lofty target of winning the title.
A late selection process (the management only named their final 18 players hours before the team managers’ meeting on Friday) was thought to be due to the many options they had to choose from.
Things were promising as the team gave some inspired performances in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup last month, finishing as runners-up to Australia.
Surprisingly, the team put up a disjointed and uninspiring show here in Kuantan. They were beaten in both their Group B matches.
Malaysia lost 2-3 to France on Saturday and then 1-3 to South Korea on Sunday. They have one final group match on Tuesday against Canada. A defeat or draw means they will be playing top seeds New Zealand in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
So, what has gone wrong?
National coach K. Dharmaraj on Monday refuted claims of infighting in the team.
“We made some changes to our playing style and also tried out other tactical ideas. The players were unable to cope, resulting in poor performances.
“I disagree completely that there are divisions and unhappiness in the team. I have heard the rumours after our second defeat on Sunday. It is not true,” said Dharmaraj.
He also dismissed claims that the management favoured the juniors instead of the seniors for the Champions Challenge I.
“The selection was based on merit and I have turned to players whom I felt could get the job done. It is not about favouring any one party (in this case the juniors).
“I am sure when a player is dropped they will be disappointed, but that is normal. We had a tough time making the selection and that should tell us that we have good material to pick from,” he added.
On the match against Canada, Dharmaraj said they would go all out for a win.
“Having said that, our fate depends on tomorrow’s first match between South Korea and France. If it is a draw, then we will finish last in the group and play New Zealand. It is the same if France win. But should South Korea win by a big margin, then we need to beat Canada to ensure we finish third in the group.
“It is all mathematical at the moment. The only good thing is that we go into our match knowing what is at stake. We also need to find the right winning combination again,” he added.