Ipoh, Malaysia (14 April, 2016): Malaysian team captain Razie Rahim has called on all his players to stay focus and not be intimidated by India’s sudden rise in the 25th Silver Jubilee Sultan Azlan Shah Cup when the two nations meet in a crucial match at the Azlan Shah Stadium in Ipoh on Friday.
Except for the 5-1 win over traditional rivals Pakistan, the Indians have not been very impressive so far and will need a victory at all cost against the Malaysians which will open the gates for the 2014 Asian Games gold medallist of a place in Saturday’s final against Australia.
World champions Australia have already qualified for the final to be played on Saturday with 15 points from five successive wins.
“We are going to play India just like any other match that we played so far in this tournament. I have told the players that we must stay focus and be united as a team and we have the pedigree to take on any team with world rankings higher than us here,” said Razie during the teams’ reception at a leading hotel here which was graced by the Ruler of the State of Perak, His Royal Highness Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.
“If we look back, we have always played well in the first three quarters of our matches but made silly mistakes in the remaining minutes. The junior players are in the learning curve and gave a good performance against Pakistan,” he said, adding that the morale in the team is high following wins over Japan (4-3) and Pakistan (1-0) and drawn matches against defending champions New Zealand (3-3) and Canada (2-2).
The only time the Malaysians lost a game here was against Australia when they suffered a 5-1 bashing, and that too by allowing the Kookaburras to score three goals within a space of one minute after a defence collapse.
“It is not as bad as what it looks like. We should have beaten Canada but allowed that opportunity to slip away. We have learned from that lesson and got wiser. I believe the players know how important our match against India is. We will do our best to win although everyone knows India is a very high quality team just as the other five,” said Razie.
The Malaysians can also draw inspiration from their 3-2 win over India during last year’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at the same venue. In the last meeting between these two teams, India shattered Malaysia’s hopes of qualifying for the Olympic Games by winning 3-2 in last year’s World League Semi-finals at Antwerp (Belgium).
Malaysian head coach Stephen van Huizen has concerns about injuries sustained by Razie. The defender, a key element in Malaysia’s wins and drawn matches, needed stitches on his lips after Tuesday’s match against Canada. And against Pakistan he received a serious blow on the left hand as he brought off a desperate save in the last quarter of the match.
“We’ll give it our best and only then look at where we finish,” said van Huizen, who conceded that Malaysia did not have very good prospects of qualifying for the final. “We’re still a long way off being among the top teams, but we aspire for a improved performance against them,” said the Malaysia coach.
The hosts need to defeat India by seven goals to earn a place in the final. A victory over India will enable Malaysia to equal New Zealand’s points tally as well as the goal-difference, but the home team will be ahead in goals scored. Otherwise, they can only aspire for a bronze medal.
The tussle for the second spot in the league standings, however, has come down to between India and New Zealand.
New Zealand, after their 2-1 victory over India yesterday, is in second place in the table standings with 11 points, while India is on nine points from five matches. The Kiwis will be following the match with great concern too.
A victory against New Zealand would have secured India a place in the final much earlier with a league game to spare and head coach Roelant Oltmans would not have had lamented ‘poor show against the Black Sticks’ reason for the late wake-up call.
“We’re keen to make the final, but for getting there we need to produce a good game of hockey against Malaysia tomorrow,” said Oltmans. ‘The Malaysians have exhibited some good hockey, but were unlucky not to get better results.”
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