Kuala Lumpur (21 January, 2017): Malaysia created history by qualifying for the World League Semi-Finals in Belgium following a sensational 2-1 win over World No 15 Italy in sudden-death penalty shootout on Saturday.
Dharmaraj’s Malaysia’s Tigress, placed 21 in the FIH Hero World Rankings, had earlier made a grand comeback from a goal down in this Women Hockey World League Round 2 Semi-finals match to hold the Italians to a 2-2 draw in regulation time while Ireland (WR: 16) downed Wales (WR: 32) 2-0 in an earlier semi-final tie at the Tun Razak Stadium today.
But more importantly the Malaysians and Irish booked a spot in the Women Hockey World League Semi-Finals which will be held in Belgium (June 21-July 2) and South Africa (July 8-23).
“For the last one year these players have been training very hard. Our training programme starts at 5am and they train twice a day. Today is the result of the hard work and they deserve to be in the World League Semi-finals,” said Dharmaraj at a post-match press conference.
“When we went into the shootout I was still confident we will make it. My heart was pounding faster than usual and when Fatin (Shafika) stepped up in the sudden-death shootout after the Italian player missed, I said to myself “we are through.”
The Malaysian women have never qualified for the World Cup and the World League Round 2 is Dharmaraj’s first major assignment as head coach since taking over the position in January 2016.
Ireland’s Green Army and Malaysia’s Tigress will meet in the final of the Women Hockey World League Round 2 tomorrow (Sunday, 22 January) while Italy and Wales will battle for third placing. The Italians and Welsh can still qualify for the World League Semi-Finals by finishing third in Kuala Lumpur based on their world rankings.
The Green Army defeated Malaysia’s Tigress 2-1 in a Pool B match last week.
The World League Semi-Finals is a qualification platform to the 2018 World Cup which will be held at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.
It was a night to remember for more than 2,000 fans who watched the Tigress, ranked World No 21, produced their best against a world class opposition in the form of Italy.
Dharmaraj’s Tigress have been beefed up with the return of midfielder Raja Norsharina Raja Shabuddin, who did not play in the last two matches due to an ankle injury suffered against Ireland on Monday, to face the Italians in this crucial match.
Midfielder Maria Garraffo fired the Italians ahead in the 10th minute from a field goal but this was quickly cancelled by Fazilla Sylvester Silin three minutes later from a penalty corner.
The Italians, undaunted by the equaliser, continued with a barrage of counter attacks at the start of the second quarter and rewarded with a penalty corner in the 18th minute. Agata Wybieralska made no mistake to give the Italians a 2-1 advantage but once again, Malaysia’s Tigress produced a great fight back with a Hanis Nadiah Onn field goal four minutes before the end of the first half to draw level.
The second half saw the Malaysians and Italians having a fair share of ball possession and goal opportunities but with no change to the scoreboard match proceeded into penalty shootout.
Goalkeeper Farah Ayuni Yahya was the toast of the Tigress as she kept the Italians at bay in the first penalty shootout which saw both teams tied 1-1. Dalila Mirabela and Fatin Shafika Md Shukri were the only successful Italian and Malaysian players.
However, Valentina Braconi, Italy’s most trusted player, missed in the first sudden-death shootout but Fatin Shafika kept her nerves, stepped up and gave all Malaysians a night to celebrate.
Two goals in two minutes ensured Ireland a 2-0 victory over Wales to advance into Sunday’s final of the Women Hockey World League Round 2.
The Irish had a tough task at hand against the Welsh. As the tournament’s second highest ranked team behind the Italians, the Green Army found themselves pegged down by the Welsh in the first quarter.
The chances, however, build with great intensity in the second half and Yvonne O’Brian broke the deadlock in the 27th minute for Ireland from a penalty corner goal and less than a minute later Anna O’Flanagan doubled the lead with a field goal. It was Anna’s 12th goal in the tournament so far.
The game suddenly took a different outlook as the Green Army went into the breather with a two-goal lead.
The second half saw both sides creating chances but Ireland held the advantage with possession. Irish goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran made a strong save in the final few minutes of the third quarter to keep the marauding Wales forwards at bay and kept a clean record en route to the final.
The Kuala Lumpur edition of the Women Hockey World League Round 2 is the first of three series in qualifying for the World League Semi-finals which will be held in Belgium (June 21-July 2) and South Africa (July 8-23).
This will be followed by the second and third series of the World League in Valencia, Spain (Feb 4-12) and Vancouver, Canada (March 25-April 2, 2017).
Results – Semi-finals: Ireland 2 Wales 0; Malaysia 2 Italy 2 (Malaysia won 2-1 in sudden-death penalty shootout).
Sunday (22 January, 2017): 7-8th Placing: Hong Kong v Kazakhstan (1.45pm); 5-6th placing: Thailand v Singapore (4.0pm)
Third-Fourth placing: Italy v Wales (6.15pm)
Final: Malaysia v Ireland (8.30pm).