KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia are regaining their foothold in world hockey.
Coach Stephen van Huizen’s side continued their good showing by finishing second in the Asia Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Sunday. It was the first time that Malaysia reached the final.
The other notable achievement for Malaysia was their 3-2 win over Pakistan in a Super Four clash. It was Malaysia’s first-ever win over Pakistan in 11 meetings in the tournament.
Before that at the World Hockey League Semi-Finals in London in July, Malaysia made it to next year’s World Cup Finals in India after a creditable fourth-place finish.
The performances in the two tournaments have certainly caught the eye of hockey enthusiasts. Malaysia are now more consistent with a high fitness level. They also managed to cut down their mistakes or last-minute lapses of concentration.
Van Huizen, however, said that “Malaysia is still a work in progress”.
“We must not get carried away by the success. We are not a finished product yet. The players are learning and have improved with each tournament. That’s the good thing.
“We are also able to last the pace and play with greater confidence.
“One important aspect is that the players are able to play the big teams and match them,” said Van Huizen.
Malaysia played seven matches in Dhaka, winning four, drawing one and losing twice. Both the defeats were in the hands of three-time champions India.
“There was not a single match where we had not performed well. Even in the 2-6 loss to India (in the preliminary round), we showed good form. We made some early mistakes and India capitalised to take a healthy lead.
“Several of our players suffered injuries during the tournament but they soldiered on. Key players like Nabil (Fiqri), Mohamed Shukri (Mutalib) and Mohamed Marhan (Mohamed Jalil) played on despite their injuries.
“This is the kind of spiirt we want in the team. So overall, the Asia Cup outing is a success,” said Van Huizen.
There was more joy for Malaysia as forward Faizal Saari shared the tournament’s joint top scorer award with India’s Hermanpreet Singh with seven goals each.
Van Huizen has given his players a one-week break before reporting to their respective teams for the Razak Cup tournament in Ipoh from Nov 4-12.
The players are expected to regroup after the Razak Cup for a short training stint before the start of the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) in January.
“Our training programme for next year is ready, but it needs to be approved by the Malaysian Hockey Confederation’s (MHC) executive board,” said Van Huizen.
It will be a busy year for Malaysia as they are down to compete in four major tournaments next season. They will start the season with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in March followed by the Commonwealth Games in Australia (April), Asian Games in Indonesia (August) and World Cup Finals (December).
Malaysia’s main target is the Asian Games as the gold medallists will get an automatic berth to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“We want to make the cut for the Olympics. The training programme will be tailored to achieve that target,” said Van Huizen.