KUALA LUMPUR: The semi-finals of the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) could well see the underdogs emerging triumphant.
Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club (KLHC) and Tenaga Nasional are the favourites to make the final from their semi-final clashes against Yayasan Negri Sembilan (YNS) and Sapura respectively. The final match-up is likely to decided in the second leg.
The KLHC-YNS clash is set to pit the effective team work of the league champions against the individual brilliance of the Negri team.
KLHC are certainly the team to beat, having steamrolled past all and sundry since losing their first league match on Dec 17 last year. They have scored 101 goals in the 18 matches, thus far.
YNS, on the other hand, tend to rely on their foreign imports from India and Pakistan. And, judging by their performance in the quarter-finals, their foreign legion seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.
Players like Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh, Mohamed Imran, Shakeel Abbasi and Mohamed Waqas have all played at the very top level in the international scene and can handle the pressure.
They can be a calming influence and provide guidance to the others in the team.
YNS coach Hasnizam Ah Sim said that “half the battle will be won if these individuals can combine well”.
“This is a very tough match ... but over two games, we can plan for a win. The first match is crucial and we will try to get a good result before thinking of the return match,” he said.
KLHC coach K. Dharmaraj believes that his side have the understanding and teamwork to overcome any opposition. The only setback is his players’ temperament.
“These players have frozen at this stage of the tournament before. We have been sent packing about 10 times in the knockout stage – both as KLHC and Ernst and Young – and we have only one overall title to show for,” he said.
KLHC can also bank on players like Mohamed Razie Rahim, Chua Boon Huat, Ismail Abu, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin and Azlan Misron – to turn the match around with their individual brilliance.
The Tenaga-Sapura clash will be a match-up of two teams packed with individual flair and could well be decided by penalty corners.
Mohamed Amin is the specialist for Tenaga, with Faisal Saari an able stand-in.
Sapura, who lost to Tenaga in the final last year, have South Korea’s Lim Woo-guen, S. Kuhan and Kazamirul Nasruddin as their main penalty corner takers.
“There is no doubt that this will be a close battle and every penalty corner attempt will count,” said Sapura coach I. Vicknesweran.
Tenaga coach Nur Saiful Zaini knows that only an improved performance, after their yo-yo form en route to the semi-finals, would get them any further.
“For me it is 50-50 and the team that can outwit the other will win. I expect the match to go down to the wire and we must be ready for any eventualities,” he said.