Malaysia's keeper S. Kumar saves a shot from a New Zealand player during the penalty shootout after the teams were tied at 4-4 in regulation time. Malaysia won the shootout 3-2. – Bernama Photo
KUANTAN: Malaysia may have upset the formbook by beating favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals of the Champions Challenge I hockey tournament but, as they prepare for the semi-final against Canada on Saturday, there are some defensive frailties they’ll need to work on first.
After two defeats in the group phase – losing 3-2 to France and 3-1 to South Korea – the Malaysians regrouped to beat Canada 4-3.
Then, in Thursday’s quarter-finals, they defeated top seeds New Zealand 3-2 in a penalty shootout after the teams were tied at 4-4 in regulation time.
Their first-half performance against the Kiwis was top notch as they took a commanding 4-1 lead.
But the second half was simply atrocious.
Malaysia have now scored eight goals in two matches but they have also conceded seven. That’s not the kind of statistics that makes for good reading.
S. Kumar has been a safe bet between the posts but the backline needs to be more alert to quick counter attacks.
Azlan Misron has done well to galvanise the defence and Faiz Helmi may be a better bet in the sweeper’s role than Kevin Lim.
Kevin has only played four times for Malaysia and still has some way to go to forge a better understanding with the others.
One thing the team need to do is to get the ball out of defence quickly when under pressure rather than slowly building up play.
They have a tendency to get into tight situations, which ultimately see them conceding possession to their opponents.
The better option is to get the ball out by scooping it into their opponents’ half so that the players can regroup.
While the defence is a worry, the mobile forward line – comprising Faizal Saari, Mohd Shahril Saabah, Mohd Rashid Baharom. Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin and Ismail Abu – has been a revelation in this tournament.
They’ve forged a good combination and their speed in attack has been a delight to watch.
The forwards have also done their jobs well, with Shahril being the top scorer with four goals, Tengku Ahmad three, Faizal and Ismail one each.
Malaysia’s other scorers are Azlan Misron and Fitri Saari.
National coach K. Dharmaraj, who is aware of the contrasting performance by the team, said that they should forget about the group win over Canada as “the semi-final will be a different ball game”.
“Each phase of the knockout stage is different ... I’m sure Canada will be looking for revenge against us,” he said.
“They have come through a tough quarter-final match themselves (edging Poland 3-2) and will be out to do better this time.
“But our players are also aware that they need to improve and be more consistent. I’m sure they’ll raise their game against Canada.”
So, with the defence shaky but the forwards in prolific form, let’s hope Malaysia will adopt an attacking game and take the fight to Canada.