No fear: Captain Sukri hopes for worthy opponents in playoff

PETALING JAYA: National hockey team captain Mohd Sukri Mutalib hopes that Malaysia will get to play a nation that is ranked closer to them for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic playoff matches in October.

Malaysia will know today who they will face in the two-leg playoff matches. World No. 11 Malaysia will play either former world champions Germany (sixth), England (seventh), Spain (eighth) or New Zealand (ninth) depending on the luck of the draw.

“Honestly, I want to face a team that is near to our ranking. However, it all depends on the luck of the draw, ” said the 33-year-old.

“By hook or by crook, we’ve to be prepared for any team. The good thing about the draw is we will know our opponents early.

“The sad part is we will be playing away from home. Even though it’s over two legs, we will not be playing on our shores.”

To prepare for the qualifiers, Malaysia, coached by Roelant Oltmans, travelled to Europe and Japan to play a series of tournaments and friendlies.

During Malaysia’s three-week stint in Europe, the squad played nine matches. Six were Test matches while the other three came in the Four Nations Invitational tournament, which Malaysia won.

The six Test matches in Europe saw Malaysia beat Germany 4-3 but lost the other five to Spain, Holland (4-6 and 2-4) and Belgium (0-8 and 1-5).

Malaysia won the Four Nations Invitational in Terrassa, Spain, after beating Spain 4-3, Ireland 2-1 and drawing 3-3 with England.

In Japan, they played a four-nation tournament in Tokyo which saw teams like India (world No. 5), New Zealand and hosts Japan (15th) participating in it.

However, they lost all their matches at the group stage - India (0-6), Japan (1-3), New Zealand (1-3) and fumbled in the third-fourth playoff match, losing 1-6 to Japan.

Sukri said there were reasons why they under-performed in the last nine matches they played.

“We played well in the first seven games but faltered after that. I would attribute it to tiredness because it’s the first time we played nine matches in two weeks. We are in the general preparation phase, where we are looking to build our strength, understand the tactics and also prepare ourselves mentally for the competition phase.“In Japan, we had some players coming from Kuala Lumpur and retained some tired legs from Europe. Our combination wasn’t good and it showed in matches.”

Sukri said for the team to do well on the international stage, they have to understand that only consistency can bring them forward.

“We have good quality but consistency is not there. We are still looking for ways to fix that. We have our good days and bad days, and that has to be rectified.

“As captain, I will do whatever it takes to motivate these boys. My job is also easier because the likes of S. Kumar, Razie (Rahim) and Tengku (Ahmad Tajuddin Tengku Abdul Jalil) are also guiding them.”

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