KUALA LUMPUR: The quarter-final line-up of the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) has thrown up some lop-sided matches, if the preliminary round results are anything to go by.
League champions Tenaga Nasional, Sapura and Ernst and Young have been on a scoring spree in the preliminary round and they can be expected to have an easy time in the last eight as well.
The battle for the overall title is only likely to start from the semi-final stage. Only the quarter-final between Maybank and Customs could see some resistance but the Tigers should check through without much difficulty.
These four teams are head and shoulders above the rest and, from the start, the MHL had been a four-way battle.
Tenaga, who scored 55 goals in the 11 matches and conceded 14, will play young Pahang Sports Council and they should win the tie easily. But in the preliminary round, Tenaga had a tough time, beating the Pahang side just by a 1-0 margin.
But the three-time league champions have a better all-round side and pack too much firepower. They are a shoo-in for the semis along with Sapura.
Sapura had the highest number of goals with 71 goals while conceding 17. With South Korean Kang Keon-wook and national skipper S. Kuhan in fine form, they should have no problems dispatching the Royal Malay Regiment (RMR).
The Bank Simpanan Nasional vs Ernst and Young match could be a tough encounter as the defending champions have not been performing as a unit. They are very individualistic and more often lose possession of the ball at crucial times.
BSN coach C. Paramalingam has always had a trick in his hands in the past but may find the going tough this time.
Ernst and Young have in their fold the leagues top scorer in Indian Len Aiyappa. He has scored 29 goals so far, even surpassing the 28 he scored last year in winning the top scorers award.
It is a more confident Aiyappa now and he has not finished with his scoring yet. All his goals have come from penalty corners and there should be some more in the last eight.
Paramalingam said they had an equal chance at winning, as the knockout stage can be tricky.
We just have to play better than we are doing and also make sure that we keep to our game plan. Even when we lost to the top teams, we were not outclassed. The players made some errors and that proved costly, he said.
The game between Maybank and Customs will see some of the banks ex-players like St John Davies and M. Jayamaran lining up against them.
The Tigers won the earlier match 2-0 and will be favourites to win again.
Customs are making their debut in the league and have just set the quarter-finals as their target. Now they just want to take it one match at a time.
There is no pressure on the team. We have already achieved our target. We do not have any star players in the team but we do have a bunch of fighters. There is no question that the top four teams are a cut above the rest.
But we intend to give it our best shot and try and take at least one match, Customs manager Samson Sevanjanam added.