Malaysia's striker Hanafiah Dolah (right) attempts to block a strike by Brunei's Shukri Jaineh during their semi-final match of the ISTAF SuperSeries Finals 2013/2014 at Titiwangsa Stadium on Saturday. -- MOHD AZHAR ARIF/ The Star
KUALA LUMPUR: You either go all out or go home. And that’s the reality facing Malaysia when they face Thailand in the eagerly-anticipated ISTAF SuperSeries Finals 2013/2014 grudge match on Sunday.
Malaysia proved they’re not afraid to take risks when they threw a curve ball by opting for young tekong Syahir Rosdi to start his first match of the Series with feeder Muqlis Borhan and killer Hanafiah Dolah in the 3-0 semi-final triumph over Brunei at the packed Titiwangsa Stadium on Saturday.
“We’ve done what we came here to do (make the final), so I’m very happy. We didn’t bombard the boys with instructions but allowed them to play freely. I think that’s what made the difference. They also did really well in coping with the pressure and expectations of playing in front of the home crowd,” said national coach Jamaludding Hasan.
This will be Malaysia’s fourth final appearance in the Series – and third against Thailand, who dropped a set against South Korea in their 3-1 win in the other semi-final.
Malaysia lost to the Thais in Bangkok (3-0) and Kota Kinabalu (3-2) last year.
“We’ve faced the Thais twice in the finals but our strategy just wasn’t enough for us to nick a win. We came close in Sabah, taking it to five sets. So this time, we’re not going to go soft. This our best chance ... in fact, our last chance to redeem some pride,” said Jamaluddin.
The coach’s calculated risk of playing Syahir ahead of Izurin Refin paid off as the 18-year-old Penangite showed steely determination to keep his composure to score four aces en route to an 88% service rate (29 out of 33). Hanafiah did well converting 14 out of 16 winners. Even Muqlis got in on the act, with four points of his own.
“Izurin lacks service rate but has better defensive qualities and better control of the court. Syahir, though, has composure but lacks defensive skills. So, we’ll deliberate those issue when we select the team for tomorrow’s (today’s) final,” said Jamaludin.
“Games nowadays heavily rely on services. Thailand have a good tekong in Kritsana (Tanakorn) ... in fact, all three (Somporn Jaishghol, Supachai Maneenat) are more experienced than our players.
“But we definitely have a chance against them. We just have to make use of the chances that come our way.”
In the women’s draw, Malaysia’s Noor Fairuz Azizan (tekong), Nor Farhana Ismail (feeder), Rahilah Harun (striker) exceeded expectations by advancing to their first final in the SuperSeries after seeing off Myanmar 15-10, 15-11, 15-10.
They will also take on Thailand in the final on Sunday after the defending champions defeated Indonesia 15-9, 15-3, 15-8 in the other semi-final.
“They more than achieved my target. We wanted to make the semi-finals, but the girls have done one better. This is definitely a little piece of history,” said coach Mohd Fikri Nor.