Malaysia beat Canada 4-3 in their last Group B match of the Champions Challenge I on April 29, 2014. They face New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
KUANTAN: Malaysia will respect New Zealand but will not fear them.
That’s how the world No. 13 Malaysia will approach their quarter-final tie against world No. 6 New Zealand in the Champions Challenge I on Thursday.
“We won’t give New Zealand too much respect and we won’t allow them to dictate the pace of the game,” said national skipper Azlan Misron on Wednesday.
“We have our own game plan ... we’ll stay focused and stick with it. It will be a tough match, that’s for sure. We had a good match against Canada (winning 4-3) and I really hope that we have turned the corner with that match.
“We have beaten the Kiwis before and we can do it again.”
But it’s not just the Kiwis that the Malaysians are worried about. The national team will also be playing their quarter-final match, at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium here, under very humid conditions – as it’s slated to start at 2.45pm.
The Kiwis have had the benefit of playing two of their group matches at 3pm. Those matches were played over four quarters – which is what Malaysia will be experiencing for the first time.
National coach K. Dharmaraj has put on a brave front, saying there was no need to worry too much about the weather “as our players are used to the conditions here”.
“We know what it is like to play at 3pm. It will be hot and humid. But the weather may work in our favour. The Kiwis, despite having played at that time, will certainly be more cautious,” he said.
Malaysia finished last in the group phase, winning only one match – defeating Canada on Tuesday.
New Zealand, on the other hand, topped Group A with an unbeaten record. They also lethal upfront, having scored 16 goals in three matches.
Malaysia could only score seven goals in their three group matches and let in nine.
Azlan feels that the defence has done well, although “we can do much better in defending against penalty corners”.
“Yes, we do miss Razie Rahim (injured) ... If you look at the goals we’ve let in, only a few were from field attempts. Three came from penalty strokes (one against France and two against Canada) while the rest were from penalty corners,” he said.
“So, that’s one area we have to be careful and need to tighten up.”
He also commended the forwardline of Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Ismail Abu, Faizal Saari and Rashid Baharon, saying “they have done very well”.
“And in Mohd Shahril Saabah, we are slowly getting goals from penalty corners as well,” said Azlan, adding that they also must cut down on their mistakes.
Azlan and Dharmaraj agreed that Malaysia can upset the more experienced Kiwis.
“We have to believe in ourselves and play to our strength. There’s nothing wrong in playing against a top team,” said Dharmaraj.
“We should learn from New Zealand. They lost in the group phase of the World League Final in New Delhi in January but still went on to make the final.”
Since Thursday is Labour Day and a public holiday, the national team are hoping that the Kuantan crowd will turn up in full force to cheer them on.
Malaysia will need all the help they can get if they are to pull the rug from under the fancied New Zealand.
And this is one tie Malaysia know will decide whether they end up in the top four or the bottom four.