National hockey team gear up for American tests


BY S. RAMAGURU

KUALA LUMPUR: The last time the United States hockey team played a Test series in Malaysia in 1987, they won the two matches that embarrassed the hosts. 

Then, Malaysia were ranked much higher than the Americans but the team under the charge of N. Sri Shanmuganathan crashed to 0-1 and 1-3 defeats. 

Those losses still rankle the Malaysians who will be out to make amends when the Americans line up for a six-match series here, beginning with a match against the national juniors today.  

Three of the games are Test matches against the Malaysia seniors. The others are friendlies against the juniors, who are preparing for the Junior Asia Cup, which will be played in Karachi from April 20-29. 

The demoralised Malaysian seniors, in particular, will be keen to bounce back after their failure to qualify for the Olympics in a tournament in Madrid last month. 

The first Test match will be played tomorrow and coach Yahya Atan (pic) said that matches against the Americans in normal circumstances had always been tough for Malaysia. 

“The Test defeats by the US were sore points in our history. Matches against them in major tournaments have also been close. They always have a side with strong determination and they always play well against us,” he said. 

The last two meetings between the two sides were in classification play-offs of the 1984 and 1996 Olympics – both times on American soil. 

The match for 11th place at the 1984 Los Angeles Games ended in a 3-3 draw and Malaysia won 9-8 on penalties. The teams met again in the same classification play-off in the 1996 Atlanta Games and Malaysia won 4-1. 

Yahya was involved in both matches – as a defender in 1984 and as the assistant coach to Volker Knapp in 1996. 

“It is important for the players to get over the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Athens Olympics.  

“The matches against the US will be useful to get back into rhythm ahead of the two four-nation tournaments in Australia,” said Yahya. 

Malaysia will have matches against Australia, India and South Africa in the tournaments in Canberra and Sydney between April 14 and 25. 

For the juniors, the matches against the Americans will help coach Sarjit Singh in deciding on his final squad of 18 for the challenge in the Junior Asia Cup, which is also a qualifier for the Junior World Cup Finals in Holland next year. 

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