IPOH: Inconsistency was the main problem of the Malaysian side in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, which ended here on Sunday.
Nobody expected Malaysia to win the title, not when they had the likes of world champions Germany and Pakistan as their opponents.
It was no surprise that Malaysia lost all four matches but the manner in which they went down to Asian champions South Korea (0-2) and New Zealand (2-4) is cause for concern.
The team played poorly in the first half with uncommitted play and amateurish performances from the players, especially some of the seniors. But they gave some decent performances in the last quarter of both matches.
In their defeat by Pakistan (1-3) and Germany (1-2), Malaysia showed that they could match the best in the world with determined performances and dishing out some good penalty corner set pieces and some good defensive play.
Malaysia's coach Paul Lissek attributed his team's inconsistency to the players' poor physical fitness.
“We have to work extra hard on this aspect and the players must be prepared for tough times ahead if they want to be fitter,” he said.
“I may have to change our training strategy to include more physical training because our target is to do well in the Champions Challenge in South Africa in July and the qualifying tournament for the 2004 Athens Olympics.”
The fact remains that the Malaysian players have good skills and ball sense but they lacked fitness, and for some experience, prevented the team from working well for the full duration of 70 minutes.
Players like Tajol Rosli, Azlan Misron, Nor Azlan Bakar, Riduan Nasir, P. Prabahkaran and Chua Boon Huat are skilful players and a delight to watch when on the ball.
But the team would benefit more if they passed the ball to a better-positioned teammate instead of trying to beat their opponents.
Defender S. Kuhan and Nor Azlan formed a solid wall and the defence will gain strength with the return of K. Gobinathan, who sat out the tournament with a thigh muscle pull.
Goalkeeper Roslan Jamaluddin appeared to have regained his touches with outstanding performances against Germany and Pakistan. He did not play against South Korea and New Zealand. Stand-in goalkeeper S. Kumar played well but he lacked international exposure and experience.
Malaysia should also take the cue from Pakistan, who beat Germany 1-0 in the final.
Their coach, Shahnaz Sheikh, made it clear that the key to success in today's hockey all boils down to teamwork.
“That's the way to go. You cannot expect to play an individual game today and win matches. The game has changed drastically and teamwork is the key to success,” he said.
Pakistan failed to finished among the top three in all competitions they took part in last year and their defeats included a 1-7 rout by New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and a 2-4 loss on penalties to Malaysia in the playoff for the bronze medal in the Busan Asian Games.
Their success in the Azlan Shah Cup has boosted their morale in their preparation for the Champions Trophy and the Olympics.
To add to their fine achievement here, penalty corner specialist Sohail Abbas walked away with the Best Player of the Tournament award. Pakistan also won the Fair Play trophy.
Germany did not go home empty-handed. Forward Christopher Zeller and goalkeeper Clemens Arnold were picked as the Most Promising Young Player of the tournament and man-of-the-match in the final respectively.