ANTWERP: Malaysia have virtually qualified for the last eight of the World Hockey League Semi-Finals – but not before some heart-stopping moments!
Two goals by forward Izwan Firdaus inspired Malaysia to a hard-fought 4-2 win over Ireland at the KHC Dragons Stadium here on Thursday – and put them top of Group B.
It was definitely not a match for the faint-hearted as Malaysia not only lost their lead twice, they even muffed a penalty stroke.
But in the end, goals by Izwan, skipper Mohd Razie Rahim and Mohd Shukri Mutalib were enough to hand Malaysia their second win in as many matches. Malaysia had defeated China 3-2 in their opening match last Sunday.
Peter Caruth and Shane O’Donoghue scored for Ireland.
Coach Tai Beng Hai’s men can now look ahead to the matches against host Belgium on Friday and Britain on Sunday with greater confidence.
“The players stuck to the game plan and were not afraid to attack when they had the chance. It was a team performance ... we were in control of the match, despite letting them come back twice,” said Beng Hai.
“The difference is that my boys played with confidence today. This win has eased the pressure on the team.
“But we won’t stop here. We want to get a good result in our next two matches. The quarter-final is some way to go, so let’s not worry about it ... but at least this win will see us avoid meeting Australia in the last eight.”
Like the coach, two-goal hero Izwan also paid tribute to the team.
“It’s great to have scored ... and to score two is a bonus. I was confident that I could deliver the goods when it mattered. I’m very happy ... this is a team effort,” he said.
“We can now look forward to the other matches with greater confidence. And yes, I want to continue scoring ... I’m excited at playing against the bigger teams.”
In the Ireland match, which saw forward Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin earning his 200th international cap, Malaysia scored off their first penalty corner in the 12th minute.
Razie’s initial effort was foiled by the Ireland goalkeeper David Harte, but the ball fell to the lurking Izwan, who slotted it home.
It took Ireland just two minutes to equalise when Caruth deflected from close range after a swift counter attack.
Malaysia began the second quarter in style, with Razie on target with a direct flick off their second penalty corner in the 16th minute.
Again the Irish hit back, with O’Donoghue flicking home a direct attempt off their first penalty corner in the 19th minute.
Undaunted, Malaysia pushed on and were rewarded with a third goal, also from a set piece move. Faizal Saari’s effort hit the goalkeeper and rebounded into play. Mohd Shukri was at the right place to slam home the rebound.
In the 53rd minute, Malaysia earned a penalty stroke but Razie’s flick was saved by Harte.
Malaysia, however, were not to be denied a fourth goal as Izwan got his second – and the team’s fourth – two minutes later with a high flick from close range.