When it comes to a major hockey final, Pakistan have been a stumbling block for Malaysia whether it is at the senior or junior levels.
In 1992, Malaysia fell to Pakistan in the final of the Junior Asia Cup. Last year, Pakistan denied the Malaysian senior team the mantle of being Asia’s best when they won the Asian Games final in Guangzhou.
And there have been many occasions when Pakistan ended Malaysia’s hopes either in the preliminary round or the semi-final stage.
Malaysia have beaten Pakistan before but the victories come thin and far apart. That is why beating them in the final today would be a major achievement – albeit at the junior level.
This team (Project 2013) have had the best in terms of preparations and have been the envy of other teams in the tournament as they had a longer period training together. So it would not be a surprise if they lift the Cup today.
However, the worrying factor here is this – Malaysian hockey teams have never lived up to their favourites tag in the past.
They always seem to falter at the last hurdle. But then this team, prepared by coaches K. Dharmaraj and Mirnawan Nawawi, are different and have shown they have gone from strength to strength.
They started in 2009 and since then have had numerous Tours and several of their players (five to be exact) have been training with the senior team since 2010. Some have gone on to play in senior tournaments while Faisal Saari has become a regular in the senior team.
And against all expectations, they went on to win the inaugural Sultan of Johor Cup in November. At that point, they became a team to be reckoned with and in this tournament they have shown they are capable of winning – a mentality that the officials have been trying to instil in previous squads.
They have also achieved the two targets set for them. One is to qualify for the Junior World Cup next year and the other is to make the top two.
Let us hope that the players do not feel satisfied with that.
They should now aim to achieve the personal target set by Dharmaraj, which is to win the title today.
Six players, Faisal, Amir Farid, Mohamed Ramadhan Rosli, Mohamed Noor Faeez, Dedy Ariyadi and Norizzat Sumantri, will be overage for the Junior World Cup next year. They will have every reason to bow out of the junior team on a victorious note.
Pakistan’s best match in the tournament was the 6-1 semi-final thrashing of South Korea but they are not unbeatable.
Malaysia just need to raise their game and for once, get all the players to hit form.
The Malaysians have their structure well-crafted. The are speedy during attacks. They have a reliable goalkeeper in Mohamed Hazrul Faiz. They have a determined defence, a well-oiled midfield and the strikers are not afraid to take on opposing defenders.
There is also experience in the team as they have two penalty corner specialists in Faisal and Mohamed Noor Faeez. The duo have scored five goals each.
And the defence have only conceded five goals so far which is a good statistic by any account.
After all that has been said, it is now up to this present batch to put Malaysian hockey back on a sound footing at the international level by winning the final.
We can only hope and pray that today will be the new beginning that hockey fans have been waiting for.