KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will need to win the midfield battle against India today if they are to lift the MHF Under-19 International Invitational Hockey tournament at National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
Both teams have been unbeaten in the five-team meet and their preliminary round match ended in a 1-1 draw.
Today, there will have to be a winner and the Indians look to be the likely champions, even in the eyes of the Malaysians.
Coach Stephen van Huizen said it would all boil down to how the players carry out their game plan and also their ability to wrest control of the midfield.
“There is no question about it. The Indians are better all-round and have a team of very skilful players.
“They also play as a team with a solid playing structure. So, it will be an uphill task for us. Our players have to realise that unless they can raise their level of game, beating the Indians will not be possible,” Stephen said yesterday as the Malaysians went through a light training session in the evening.
The Malaysians are likely to field the trio of Mohamed Sufian, Mohamed Fikri and Mohamed Fakhrulradzi as their starting midfielders while Mohamed Mohamed Izwan is a capable stand-in for any of the three. These four players have featured in all the matches in the preliminary round.
They will go up against the fomidable Indian midfield led by skipper Prabodh Tirkey along with Vivek Gupta and Vinaya.
Stephen said the Indians also have the ability to maintain pressure for the duration of the game and they can be expected to apply pressure from the beginning.
But, at the same time the Malaysian coach, who is into his last assignment after 12 years with the national set-up, believes that they can stop the Indians if they deny them the space to operate.
“This will be the crucial part of our game plan. We have to deny them the space and ensure they do not get into their rhythm.
“Once they get to play according to their game plan, the Indians can be very destructive. So we will have to keep it tight at the back,” added Stephen.
The Malaysians will field Khairul Nizam in goal while Megat Azrafiq and Engku Malek Abdullah will be the fullbacks. Mohamed Shukri and Mohamed Sallehin will assist them at flank back. The only question mark is over Perak defender S. Bubalan.
The player is nursing a back injury and could miss the final.
“Bubalan is doing better than we had expected and there is a chance he may get into the final 16.
“He trained with us for the last two days and we are keeping our fingers crossed. He will give us a greater option at the back,'' Stephen said.
The two Indians forwards who will come in for some special attention are the skilful Gurucharan Singh and T. Khandaker, who have scored three goals each so far in the tournament.
But, said Stephen, it was not just one or two players that the Malaysians would have to worry about.
“It is the whole Indian team. When on song they are unbeatable. We will have to play above ourselves,” he said.
Both teams go into the final having won a tournament each last year.
The Indians won the four-nation meet in Cairo while the Malaysians were winners in the World Under-18 festival in Poland.
Today, one of the two will go one up – and get a kick-start to their challenge for a place in the Junior World Cup in 2005.