KUALA LUMPUR: The national junior hockey team need to toughen up as they are not physically up to the mark.
This was the conclusion made by coach Nor Saiful Zaini (pic) after the boys wrapped up their campaign in the six-nation Sultan of Johor Cup after defeating Japan 3-2 in the third-place playoff match at the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium yesterday.
In the five previous matches, they lost to India (4-2) in the opening match, drew with Australia (1-1) and suffered a 6-0 defeat to New Zealand before bouncing back to edge defending champions Britain (1-0) and Japan (3-2).
In last year’s edition, Malaysia finished fifth.
Nor Saiful admitted that the team were ill-prepared and lacked exposure.
“We could not train as a team due to domestic tournaments and some players were attached to the national team, ” said Nor Saiful.
“My players were also physically not up to the mark in the tournament.”
The national juniors did not play in any tour and the team did not have the services of three key players – midfielder Mohd Azrai Aizad Abu Kamal and forwards Mohd Noor Firdaus Rosdi and Mohd Shamir Rizmi Mohd Shamsul.
Azrai and Firdaus left for Amsterdam with the national team preparing for the Olympic playoff matches against Britain in London on Nov 2 and 3 while Shamir took a break to concentrate on his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations.
“The good news is that despite the situation, our boys did give their opponents from Britain, Australia and Japan a good fight, ” he said.
Nor Saiful hopes to iron out the fitness issue and lack of exposure before the team get ready for next year’s Junior Asia Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from June 4-14, which is the qualifying tournament for the 2021 Junior World Cup (dates and venue have yet to be decided).
A total of 10 teams will feature in the Junior Asia Cup and Malaysia need to finish in the top four to make the cut for the world event.
Malaysia will face strong challenges from India, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan and China at the Asian level.
“I’ve some talented players in the team, one of them is our defender Mohd Amirul Hamizan Azhar, who scored two goals at the Sultan of Johor Cup, ” he said.
“I hope we can train as a team next year and play in the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) too as this will provide a good exposure for the boys as they will be playing against the club sides, powered by foreign players.
“We also want to go for playing tours and play as many matches as possible to prepare for the Junior Asia Cup, ” he added.