The Malaysia hockey team players celebrate their win over New Zealand in a penalty shootout victory in the quarter-finals of the Champions Challenge I in Kuantan on Thursday. Both teams drew 4-4 at full-time before Malaysia prevailed 3-2 in the shootout. - BERNAMA
KUANTAN: Early setback, big lead, great fightback, tale of two halves, penalty shootout. The Malaysia-New Zealand Champions Challenge I quarter-final match had it all.
From leading 4-1, Malaysia found themselves held 4-4 by the fancied New Zealand at the end of regulation time at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium here on Thursday. Then, in the shootout, Malaysia prevailed 3-2.
Malaysia produced a masterclass performance in the first half – getting off to a lightning quick start.
But it wasn’t before the Kiwis went ahead first – through Steve Edwards’ field goal in the fourth minute.
It was then all Malaysia. First, skipper Azlan Misron found the equaliser with his first goal of the tournament in the 20th minute.
Then, Mohd Shahril Saabah bagged a brace in the 23rd and 31st minutes. He now has four goals to his name.
But the best goal came from Fitri Saari, who collected the ball at the 50-yard line before racing into the D, evading three Kiwi defenders and slotting past goalkeeper Devon Manchester in the 24th minute.
The Kiwis turned on the style after the break to level the score at 4-4, courtesy of a penalty corner hat-trick by Andy Hayward (45th, 60th, 70th).
Then came the shootout – and more drama.
It looked like Malaysia had blown it when Faizal Saari and Faiz Helmi Jali missed their attempts while Hugo Inglis and Blair Hilton netted for New Zealand.
But, as luck would have it, Malaysia tucked away the next three attempts – through Mohd Firhan Azhaari, Shahril and Fitri – while the Kiwis missed three in-a-row through Simon Child, Steve Edwards and Phil Burrows.
This was certainly not a match for the faint-hearted.
And coach K. Dharmaraj described the shootout as “a lucky break”.
“We had such a good first half and really made the goals count. Although we held a three-goal advantage, we told the players to go back after the break and not to think about it and to just play their normal game,” he said.
“Unfortunately, that didn’t work. We allowed them space to attack and paid the price by conceding three goals.
“We even went 2-0 down in the shootout ... but I’m glad we came back to win it. I’m proud of my players ... they proved themselves today.”
New Zealand coach Colin Batch said it was a good comeback by his players but rued the fact that they did not get the job done in the shootout.
“It’s always hard coming back from a three-goal deficit. I’m proud of my players ... the way they fought back and creating a lot of chances,” he said.
“In a shootout, it is always dicey but that’s how it is. We are certainly disappointed at losing this way.”
Malaysia will now take on Canada in the semi-finals. Canada beat Poland 3-2 in the other quarter-final.