Kuala Lumpur (16 Jan, 2017): Ireland’s Green Army weathered the storm against a rejuvenated Malaysia Tigress in the fourth quarter to escape with a 2-1 victory in the Women Hockey World League Round 2 Pool B match at the Tun Razak Stadium on Monday.
In a sudden burst of counter-attack in the sixth minute, an unmarked Irish captain Chloe Watkins picked the ball at the top of the circle and swept it past an outstretched goalkeeper Farah Ayuni Yahya who fell short in reaching the ball much to the joy in the Ireland camp.
But that early goal only fired-up the wounded Tigress as they came charging back with back great ferocity and in the process earned three unconverted penalty corners in the first half.
The drama spilled into the second half as the Malaysians chased for the equaliser. Hanis Nadiah Onn saw her powerful shot padded away by goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran in the 42nd minute and team captain Siti Noor Amarina’s penalty drive in the 49th minute was well saved by Ayeisha once again.
Anna O’Flanagan, however, broke the hearts of local fans in the 51st minute with a field goal to increase Irish advantage but the Malaysians rallied back for the equaliser through Hanis Nadiah, who placed the ball into the back of the net in the 54th minute from an acute angle on the left.
The next six minutes proved to be nightmarish moments for the Irish as the Tigress went at full force to earn three more penalty corners but Graham Shaw’s Green Army prevailed until the end.
“I’m surprised that Malaysia is ranked 21 in the world as they played extremely well, have a good set of players with great individual skills and without doubt should give every team they meet after this a tough fight. They should make it to the semi-finals.”
“To me we were very much focussed on this match as we were playing against a very tough opposition. We are extremely happy to win despite being under tremendous pressure in the last six minutes,” added Shaw.
The fans showed their support for the Malaysian team, despite the defeat, for a courageous effort against the Irish – the second highest ranked team here after world No 15 Italy. Dharmaraj’s Malaysia Tigress surprised the gallery with their determination, coordinated teamwork and individual skills in this crucial match that even prompted Ireland’s head coach Graham Shaw to pay glowing tribute to the Malaysian players in a post-match press conference.
Prior to the start of the match, Malaysian Hockey Confederation President, Dato’ Sri Subahan Kamal presented a bouquet of flowers to Tigress forwards Juliani Mohamad Din and Noor Hasliza Mohammad Ali who were featuring in their 200th international match.
The defeat will surely see Malaysia finish second in Group B as they are a much better side than Kazakhstan, ranked 33rd, whom they play in the last pool match on Tuesday. And three points from Kazakhstan will pit the Malaysians against the third-placed team in Group A which is probably going to be either Wales or Thailand, in the quarter-finals.
“I am very proud of my players who took the game to the Irish and even won six penalty corners. But we could not score and that was the only difference today between both the teams. Looking forward, we need to beat Kazakhstan by a simple margin and we are half-way there.”
Kazakhstan’s first points
Kazakhstan won their first two points in the tournament following a 2-0 victory over Hong Kong in a penalty shootout after the match ended 1-1 in regulation time.
Following a new format introduced by the International Hockey Federation two points are awarded to the winning team in a shootout and one point to the losing side.
Vera Domashneva fired Kazakhstan ahead in the sixth minute from a field goal but Hong Kong rallied back three minutes later for the equalizer through Ching Nam Chan. However, in the shootout only Symbat Sabazova and Alissa Chepkassova were successful.
“Honestly, the players have only been training indoor for the last few weeks as it is winter season back home. The only pitch that we have is covered in snow. That is why we could not settle down against Ireland in our first match but today we played a much better game,” said Kazakhstan head coach Serik Kalimbayev.
As for the last group match against the Malaysia’s Tigress, Kalimbayev said: “We are determined to go all out against the host. They are a great team and we will watch them play Ireland tonight and come up with a plan. The players are buoyed after this win against Hong Kong and hopefully ‘shock’ the Malaysians on Tuesday,” added Kalimbayev.
Results – Group B: Malaysia 1 Ireland 2; Kazakhstan 1 Hong Kong 1 (Kazakhstan win 2-0 in penalty shootout)
Fixtures – Tuesday (17 Jan, 2017): Group A: Italy v Singapore (1.45pm); Wales v Thailand (4.0pm).
Group B: Ireland v Hong Kong (6.15pm); Malaysia v Kazakhstan (8.30pm).