Hockey: Tough task for Sarjit’s men

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia have never had it easy against Japan and it won’t be any different when the two teams clash in a crucial match in the Olympic qualifiers in Kakamigahara, Japan, today.

With a place in the final against Germany at stake, it should be a no-holds-barred affair.

Unfortunately, Malaysia will not be able to field their best side against the hosts as first-choice midfielders S. Kuhan and Mohd Shahrun Nabil have been ruled out with groin and hamstring injuries.

The duo suffered the injuries in the team’s 4-3 win over Switzerland on Thursday.

This, coupled with the fact that Malaysia have yet to hit top form in the tournament, has made today’s match a daunting one for Sarjit Singh’s men.

Despite these setbacks, the Malaysian players are ready to soldier on to get past the Japanese and qualify for tomorrow’s final against Germany. Only the winner of the final will qualify for the Beijing Olympics in August.

Sarjit, however, doesn’t want to look beyond the Japan match.

“Let’s not talk about the final yet. The match that counts now is the one against Japan. We need to focus on it. I do not want the players to be distracted by the final,” Sarjit said in a telephone interview from Kakamigahara yesterday.

“We have a problem as Kuhan and Shahrun are injured and will not be available for the Japan game. I will reshuffle the line-up but the options are pretty limited at the moment.”

Sarjit is also aware of the fact that his players have yet to play to their true potential, admitting that the only time his men were on top of their game was during the 0-3 defeat by Germany.

He has warned his players to produce the same kind of performance today as “we will not be able to relax for even one minute against Japan.”

“They are good defensively and effective going forward. We have a chance but only if our players can play their normal game,” said Sarjit.

“To be honest, we are not playing well and that is a big worry. The Japanese also have a good penalty corner flicker in Takahiko Yamabori.

“The problem with us is that the players are slow to respond to different situations and they tend to make mistakes at crucial moments.

“Only a concerted effort will give us a win over the Japanese. We have to convert whatever chances that come our way.”

That's where the forwards have been a huge letdown.

With Mohd Razie Abdul Rahim set to take over Shahrun's centre-half role, the forward line will have just four players to depend on.

They are Chua Boon Huat, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, Ismail Abu and S. Selvaraju.

Boon Huat, Tengku Ahmad and Mohd Razie have scored two goals each while the other two have yet to get off the mark.

Since Sarjit took over as coach last year, Malaysia have played Japan twice – winning both matches in the Asia Cup in India.

But Sarjit is not one to dwell on the past. He knows that his team will have to put in a “super human effort” to get past Japan and keep their Olympic dream alive.

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