NEW DELHI: Malaysia may have won all their three Group D matches but, on Thursday, they face a daunting task against South Korea in the quarter-finals of the Junior World Cup at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
The Koreans have not beaten Malaysia at the junior level for the last three years, having lost in all four clashes – three Sultan of Johor Cups (2011-2013) and once in the Junior Asia Cup (2012).
But, this time, it’s a different ball game. As Malaysian coach K. Dharmaraj pointed out, the Koreans have come up with a totally different team altogether.
“From their team list, I can see that some of them have not played against us. Instead, they have trained and turned out for their senior team. This is definitely a different team compared to the one who played in the Sultan of Johor Cup,” he said.
“Only four of their players have no senior-level experience. That shows how seriously they have prepared for – and are taking – this tournament.”
The Koreans are energetic, play a fast attacking game and do not stop running. Their never-say-die attitude is a plus point for them. Another interesting fact is that they always defend in numbers.
Malaysia reached the quarter-finals by winning all their group matches while South Korea checked in with an outstanding display of attacking hockey in their last group match – coming from 1-3 down to draw 3-3 with India.
Even when they lost to group champions Holland, they played a very good game.
The Koreans oozed confidence in each match and most coaches agreed that they are a team to watch out for.
“We are prepared for all eventualities ... even a shootout. Past records count for nothing at this stage,” said Dharmaraj.
“We know what is at stake ... making the last four will take us past the target set by MHC (Malaysian Hockey Confederation).
“The knockout stage is a different ball game ... a single mistake can be fatal. We want to win. That’s all that matters.”
To win, the Malaysian forwardline of Mohd Syamim Yusof, Mohd Firhan Ashaari, Mohd Shahril Saabah and Rashid Bahrom must be clinical.
Firhan (three goals) and Rashid (two) have been on target but all the strikers have been guilty of profligacy as well.
Malaysia also cannot afford to make any mistakes at the back and give away penalty corners.
Look at what happened to India. South Korea punished them with their penalty corner executions.
Two Koreans players – penalty corner specialist You Seung-ju and Seo In-woo – stand out. Between them, they have scored 11 goals.
The biggest danger will come from tournament top scorer Seung-ju. He has scored seven goals from his drag flicks. Not only is he fast and powerful, he is also very accurate with his flick placements.
In-woo, meanwhile, has scored four goals thus far.
South Korean coach Kim Young-kyu acknowledged that his team have been playing well, with the game against their best so far.
“The team’s performance has been very good and they’ve played a very matured game. Against India in the first half, we were under pressure and made some mistakes. But my boys came back strongly in the second half,” said Young-kyu.
“I’m very happy with their fightback ... it augurs well for the team.
“We respect Malaysia ... they are a great side and can play good hockey.
“We need to be patient against Malaysia and not give them too much room as they can score from open play as well as from penalty corners.
“It will be an interesting match but we have something planned ... the match against India has given our players a tremendous boost.”
Malaysia have made the semi-finals twice – in 1979 and 1982 – and the Koreans once, in 1989.
This will definitely be a close match. Well, at least Asia will be assured of at least one team in the semi-finals.
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