KUALA LUMPUR: History beckons today as Tenaga Nasional and Sapura clash for the overall title of the Malaysia Hockey League at the KL Hockey Stadium in Jalan Pantai.
Both teams want the title badly, but for different reasons.
For Tenaga, victory today will mean a fourth overall title, more than Maybank and Bank Simpanan Nasional, who have three each. It will also mean a new record as the only team to achieve the double twice.
They had won the double in the 1991-92 season. The other teams to have won the double are Maybank (1994), Yayasan NS (1996), MPPJ (1997) and BSN in 1999.
For Sapura, too, there is plenty of motivation. They are gunning for their first title since making their debut in the tournament in the 2000-2001 season. They were beaten in the semi-finals in the last two seasons and have finally made it into the final. It would be great to cap it with the title. But first, they will have to beat Tenaga.
But Tenaga are not just looking at the RM40,000 prize money to add to the RM20,000 they had already won for the league title. The bigger motivation will be in becoming the most successful team in the MHL.
Tenaga coach K. Rajan said that was the biggest incentive. In addition to their three overall titles, Tenaga have also won the league title five times in the 15-year history of the MHL.
“No team has won the double twice. We last won the overall title 12 years ago. The players are determined to win it again.
“But we are not underestimating Sapura. In terms of experience, they have the players to match us. Many of their players have played at this level for other teams. They know what to do,'' he said.
In the preliminary round, Sapura took a 3-0 lead but allowed Tenaga to come back to score three goals in a 10-minute spell to earn a draw and a point that, in the later stages, helped them clinch the league title. Sapura finished second, two points behind Tenaga.
Tenaga and Sapura also have in their ranks some of the country's best players.
Tenaga’s junior players are S. Selvaraju, S. Bubalan, Azlan Misron, Fairuz Hamsani, Fairuz Ramli, Mazwrdi Samad and S. Saravanan. They also have experienced hands like Nor Saiful Zaini, Nor Azlan Bakar, Lawrence Stevens, M. Kalisweran, Lailin Abu Hassan and Mohamed Madzli Ikmar.
Tenaga have a complete side and play with a high level of confidence. The only problem is that they tend to relax after taking the lead.
Tenaga's Kalisweran is also a commanding player in midfield but he will be up against a capable opposite number in Nishel Kumar. Whoever gets it right on match day could well determine the outcome.
Sapura will also rely heavily on the leadership qualities of national skipper S. Kuhan, who is also an accomplished penalty corner flicker. Their experienced hands are K. Keevan Raj, Jiwa Mohan, K. Logan Raj, South Korean Kang Keon-wook and goalkeeper Mohamed Nasihin Nubli.
But they have capable youngsters, too, in Jivan Mohan, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, A. Nagarajan, Nor Affendy Ramli and Mohamed Fakhrulradzi. Tengku Ahmad, for one, promises to be a star of the future.
With a line-up like that on both sides, the final will be a close one to call.
Rajan agrees. “We need to make full use of the chances that come our way. You can bet that any mistakes the teams make will be punished. I see very little room for the forwards to attack. But if we can draw them out, then we can sneak in the goals.”
TENAGA NASIONAL: S. Kumar, Nor Saiful Zaini, Mohamed Madzli Ikmar, Nor Azlan Bakar, Lawrence Steven, Norazlan Rahim, M. Kalisweran, Azlan MIsron, Tajol Rosli, Fairuz Ramli, Mohamed Fairuz Hamsani.
SAPURA: Mohamed Nasihin Nubli, Mohamed Nizam Nordin, S. Kuhan, Jiwa Mohan, P. Prabhakaran, K. Keevan Raj, K. Logan Raj, Nishel Kumar, Kang Keon-wook, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Jivan Mohan.